Former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery parlayed decades of international relationship-building to assist with gaining freedom of a Chinese-American captive and the release of an Iranian accused of violating trade sanctions.
Slattery, who served an eastern Kansas district in the U.S. House for more than a decade, worked as an attorney and consultant after leaving Congress. He forged relationships along the way that included Majid Ravanchi, a former University of Kansas student now serving as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. In an interview Monday, Slattery said he also was familiar with Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
He contributed to dialogue that led to exchange of Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University doctoral student arrested in Tehran during a research trip, accused of being a spy and incarcerated the past three years, for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian researcher held since 2018 in the United States on charges of breaking U.S. trade sanctions.
"Bottom line is two families are reunited," Slattery said. "One in Iran and one in Princeton, New Jersey."
On Saturday, the administration of President Donald Trump confirmed the brokered agreement would result in release of Soleimani and Wang. The president said in a statement freeing Americans was of vital importance to his administration and "we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas."
Slattery, a Democrat engaged for 15 years in outreach projects in Iran, said he was invited to participate by Wang's family attorney. Slattery said he worked pro bono on the project, and told Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, during a September meeting in New York there was no credible evidence Wang was engaged in espionage.
"I was completely convinced he was not a spy and completely convinced he was being held on bogus charges," Slattery said.
Wang was taken into custody in 2016, convicted on two counts of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison in Tehran.
The former Kansas congressman also concluded the U.S. Department of Justice had a weak case against Soleimani, a stem-cell researcher arrested after invited by the Mayo Clinic to come to Minnesota.
The case against him involved exportation of a growth factor used in research to Iran, but Slattery said Soleimani's lawyers could have convincingly argued in court the material was covered by a medical exception to the trade ban.