Her Husband Was a Princeton Graduate Student. Then He Was Taken Prisoner in Iran.

Hua Qu is fighting to save her husband — one of at least seven U.S. captives in the Islamic Republic being used as pawns in a nearly 40-year secret history of hostage taking.

Comments: 154

  1. In wonder whether Princeton University briefed Mr. Wang prior to his departure for Iran on the possibility that he could be arrested and held hostage. If not, Princeton was negligent. Wang should have checked with the State Department on its travel advisory prior to traveling to Iran, regardless of his research mission.

    I lived in Iran in the years just prior to the revolution. I learned and spoke Farsi as I traveled around the country and worked in Tehran. I knew John Limbert who also spoke fluent Farsi. Neither of us look Iranian although we are very familiar with Iranian culture, customs, and paranoia towards the United States. It is something ingrained in their society. Thus any American visitor, scholar, or journalist is already suspect upon entering the country. This was true in the days of Savak; it's more so these days of Iranian political and economic isolation.

    The arrest and incarceration of Mr. Wang in Evin prison is classic hostage diplomacy. The Soviets practiced it against U.S. academics and business people in the USSR for decades. Iran has taken a leaf from their playbook. Added to this is the constant need of the hardline revolutionaries to validate their hold on power by attacking the U.S. and seizing its citizens as ransom pawns.

    Any American contemplating a peaceful, harmless sojourn in Iran has to know that he/she can become a pawn in Iran's international diplomatic dance with the U.S. and other nations.

  2. As a sole-passport visitor, Wang may have reasonably believed at the time he was in little danger: "...very few travelers are like Wang: American sole-passport bearers traveling as researchers, journalists or even tourists. For decades the conventional wisdom has held that such travelers, if they are lucky enough to get in, are unlikely to be detained. Since Wang’s imprisonment, a State Department travel advisory has warned otherwise."

  3. I'm a PhD candidate at Princeton and have travelled to Kenya and Mexico for field work. In both cases, I was made well aware of risks by the university. I'm almost certain he had to sign a liability waiver that explicitly described risks. I did. Beyond that, I'm sure most PhD students are capable of figuring out the risks of where they're traveling.
    That being said, most of the time risks of travelling don't manifest into reality. Whej they do, the university goes to great strides to get us out if trouble. We have many options, like international SOS and great legal teams at our disposal.
    Ultimately, obtaining new knowledge can be dangerous. This is horribly tragic, but as a student I can say Princeton likely did, and is doing what it can.

  4. @bkbyers "Neither of us look Iranian although we are very familiar with Iranian culture, customs, and paranoia towards the United States. It is something ingrained in their society." Hmmm! I wonder why that is? I mean what has the US ever done that has harmed the Iranian people? Or any people for that matter? Southeast Asia? Central and South America? What?

  5. Not sure why he felt the need to go to Iran, placing the U.S. in a quandary, i.e., U.S. would have to give Iran concession to retrieve these idiots.

  6. People who have the temerity to travel to Iran ought to be left on their own because they create a lose/lose situation for the U.S. Persian history may be fascinating, but those days are gone and in its place now is a fanatical, dangerous regime. Choose another area of study, and you won't cause an international incident where now our country has to make concessions that cost all of us! Quite telling that we have to release Iranian hostages who then don't even want to go home so we are stuck harboring them here. And, zero sympathy for the Iranian who was evading taxes and sending the cash back to Iran.

  7. Well, those Iranians who refuse to come home are presumably defectors, and the US has always taken in defectors, for example from the Soviet Union. Defectors often make great citizens.

    It's also very cold-hearted to leave people on their own as you say or to blame them for what happened, when it clearly is not their fault.

    This is the old question, whether to negotiate with kidnappers or terrorists, or not. If you do, you set a precedent. If you don't, you are effectively sentencing the innocent victims. There is no right answer to this problem.

  8. Thank you, Laura Secor. I am praying for this family.

  9. Very unfortunate. Mr Wang had no idea what he was walking into.

    Someone at Princeton should have asked him "Are you sure about this?" But as an academic I know that there really is no one to ask that question at major universities. If you want to do your research, you have to make all of that happen. It rests on you to collect the data. I WOULD have learned Persian first before traveling there. That struck me as not the best decision Mr Wang made but it likely wouldnt have changed what happened to him there.

    It doesnt help these complex diplomatic matters that Mr Wang is Chinese born with recent American citizenship. The article mentions this in passing but for both countries, Mr Wang's personal history is non-standard.

    A great article that carefully explains why some countries intentionally take hostages to use as political poker chips later on.

  10. Not unfortunate really. Mr. Wang either knew what he was walking into, or he was a total fool. Anyone even seeking to gain entry to Iran from here cannot help but see dozens of major, boldface, all-caps warnings not to travel to Iran. Everyone knowing anything about the nation knows it is a despotic, fundamentalist regime that despises the U.S. and enjoys taking prisoners. Anyone going to Iran, therefore, has basically committed suicide.

  11. Mr. Wang is an educated fool.

    On the eve of the Civil War the 4 million enslaved Africans were worth more than all other American capital assets combined except for the land.

    The 2.3 million Americans currently prison are 40% black as the carefully carved colored exception to the 13th Amendments abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude.

  12. Acquiring American citizenship could be more of a curse than a blessing for those who already hold a "powerful" passport (e.g., Chinese) from a country that has less conflicts throughout the world.

    In reality, it is not even about "power", it is about a history of negotiating with hostages. The US has proven itself to be soft on hostage negotiations, so of course, having an American passport is like painting a target on one's forehead.

    The Chinese never did, and will never, negotiate to release Chinese nationals. And it is for that reason, not of political or economic clout, that Chinese nationals are not taken as hostages.

    Now that Mr. Wang finds himself in the absurd situation of a Chinese pawn in an American-Iranian chess game, his best bet is...remain discreet!

    That's right, it is interesting that it is the Iranians who publicized Wang's plight, because Iran wants to stir up the good old reliable American outrage about hostages, etc. That would create a bargaining leverage for Iran. Take that leverage away, and Iran has no reason to hold Wang.

    Renounce your American citizenship, Mr. Wang, and you'll be back in China in a week. A free man, and a free scholar, you'll even have access to the Iranian National Archives. As a Chinese.

  13. Renounce your American citizenship? Odd advice. I guess if I renounce my Jewish genes, it will be safe for me to go to Iran. Right?

  14. I live in Princeton, and I wonder why I'm not seeing hundreds of comments supporting this family as they suffer through their terrible ordeal? How insensitive several comments are in ignoring the value of one man's life. Charles Dickens came to mind: "Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child."

  15. Total nonsense. Xiyue Wang became a naturalized American citizen based on false representations, which means he is not in any way an American. He is an agent of a foreign power which seeks the destruction of the US and its people. In an offhanded manner, Iran is doing the US a favor by preventing this enemy hostile from returning to the US. In accordance with the tradition of Barack Obama in negotiating with Tehran, Trump should offer Iran a shoebox full of US greenbacks in exchange for the prompt execution of this illegal combatant.

  16. I am sorry, WHAT false representation. His mother married an American man, and thus qualified for a green card, and as a minor (under 21) child of the mother, he essentially got placed in the category. After his got his green card can be apply for citizenship in 5 years. I am aghast at the hostility you feel towards someone who naturalized according to law. Do you think everyone who naturalized is based on "false representations"? You can petition the law to make women abandon their minor children abroad I suppose, but that is not the law nor the practice right now.

  17. Another article in which you baselessly describe Rouhani and Zarif as "moderates." In what way exactly are they moderate? You never provide any explanation, only repeat your silly mantra. This is why no one trusts your newspaper anymore.

  18. Ms. Secor, an absolutely excellent, detailed and well written article on both Qu/Wang's heartbreak and American/Iranian hostage taking. Anyone thinking of visiting Iran for any reason (other than actual espionage since that is their job) should read this article.

  19. More villainizing Iran. A reminder that the US is currently holding untold numbers of babies as political pawns. And breaking the law int he process.

    And a reminder that the US is currently involved in the mass starvation of millions of women and children in Yemen, to help dictators.

    And a reminder that the US has killed millions of civilians globally, for ideology.

    But you won't find the NYTimes writing long stories about those things for the most part....

    But you will find scarmongering about Iran, and frequently.

    This lady and her husband have it hard, but not as hard as the many victims of the US.

  20. Sorry buddy, but violent hyperbole is not going to win people over. The U.S. is not starving millions of women and children in Yemen. They are starving because they live in that horrible combination of a desert and a civil war. Also, the U.S. has yet to kill millions of civilians, not even counting the greatest death toll in WWII. Pretty obvious that we were on the right side in WWII, but we've never killed so many civilians since.

    On the other hand, Iran is run by despotic fundamentalists, and anyone going there is risking their life by doing so. Hard to see how anyone could avoid realizing that. Iran really isn't a threat to anyone outside of Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, but it deals with any infidel or dissident very harshly.

  21. What a nasty country. But the entire middle East has a culture of hostage taking. All fighter groups do this. It is very nasty and terrible. Why Americans want to travel to the cursed country is beyond me..

  22. “[L]ike so much in U.S.-Iran relations, the hostage problem and the bilateral relationship are tied in a Gordian knot: Mutual hostility serves the interests of Iran’s hard-liners, who are the ones holding the prisoners. But to mitigate that hostility is to inflame those hard-liners, who then take prisoners in order to perpetuate it.”

    What about the US’s hard-liners? Does the mutual hostility in U.S.-Iran relations not serve their interests as well? The US’s hard-liners are currently in control of their nation’s government, unlike their Iranian counterparts. When Obama stunningly succeeded in forging a nuclear deal with Iran, there was a happy byproduct: prisoners were released. Now Trump, driven by the interests of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the powerful pro-Israel factions in the US as well as his own hatred of Obama and desire to undo all his accomplishments, has reneged on the nuclear deal and increased punitive sanctions on Iran with the open intention of achieving regime change.

    We are now on the path to war and hence there will be no more prisoner releases, at least while Trump and his congressional cohorts remain in office. Ms. Secor’s failure to notice this mars what otherwise is a finely researched and well written piece.

    July 11 2018 07:26 EDT

  23. I'm still waiting for a story where the times admits that an American spy captured by any other country, was justly jailed. The lack of such a thing, together with the hearts and flowers that seem to surround anyone locked up abroad in the pages of the times for which you want to raise sympathy, doesn't make me think Mr. Wang has been hard done by.

    Nice sympathetic photo shoot, by the way.

  24. Great article. I agree, Princeton was negligent in sending him there, and perhaps he didn’t do the necessary research with the state department before leaving too. Every American is a target. Still, I feel bad for him and his family. Also sad that Princeton was trying to keep this quiet - in other words, covering up its own negligence.

  25. "she spoke a clipped, Chinese-accented English..."

    It's a curious practice that (only) the NYT still does, to comment on the accent of the speaker, perhaps to add color (no pun intended) to the story, but it is a biased touch, because everyone speaks with an accent, but not everyone's accent is commented upon, there is no:

    "he spoke in a white Ivy League Princeton accented English..." or "the victim spoke in an inner city Black accented English..." or for that matter, if you must: "Ms Laura Secor wrote in a flat colorless American essayist prose..."

    I wished the NYT editor would stop this practice. Otherwise

  26. As long as the unelected, illegitimate, Twelver religious-fanatic dictators in their little costumes and 6th century headgear are in power you have to be nuts to go to Iran.

  27. If our last administration was still in power maybe we could get him and others released by dropping off another pallet of cash.

  28. The cash that was handed over was Iran’s and it had been confiscated to use as leverage. Which, ultimately, it was.

  29. [dear nyt editors: I have alzheimers. I noted I made some mistakes in my original comment. Could you delete that submission and replace it with the following please?]
    Corrected version:
    This is a a truly tragic albeit shaggy dog story. I'm sure it could have been edited down and come across much more clearly. Iran is one giant political/pseudo religious maze. There's seemingly no "there" there. Conclusion: Only a fool travels to Iran. By now that should be crystal clear. I pity the wives and the husbands and the children. But to believe one can travel there and then leave as one would Germany or Japan is beyond naive. It's actually anti-American, for it places the most powerful nation on earth in the roll of a cartoon character: forever trapped la-la-land all while hog-tying an entire citizenry and given it's recently chosen fruit cake of a faux blond,quasi "Presidential" President yet another global rostrum op for his chest-thumping. If Trump would only thump the upper left side of his pompous chest hard enough he might actually hospitalize himself permanently. But, alas, Donald is solely interested in strutting about like Adolf.

  30. But I thought that Iran was a great nation filled with great folks who we were idiots to not have been allied with for decades. Who fed me that lie again?

  31. If you ignore the US travel advisory for US citizens to NOT GO to Iran, then you’re on your own and have no one to blame but yourself.

  32. What type of fool travels to Iran and expects decent treatment? Nothing surprises me when it comes to the number one perpetrator of state sponsored terrorism.

  33. Sometimes surfers are eaten by sharks. Sometimes snowboarders get killed by avalanches. There are known dangers in the world. One of those known dangers is traveling to Iran. I hate to blame the victime, but honestly, who didn't know this was possible? Was he living under a rock?

  34. Even if it’s something he should have known, why should we not feel sad for the plight he is in? He is an academic who loves knowledge and is being held by an evil regime who uses lives as pawns to get what they want. If a snowboarder dies in an avalanche, I don’t go around saying “they should have known better.” I pay my respects to the family and think about how sad it is to see life and potential lost.

    He is in this situation for a number of reasons apart from himself as well. If our administration didn’t insist on destroying any hope of relationship with Iran (while happily pursuing ones with arguably worse regimes like NK and Putin), he easily could have been released.

  35. Hostage-taking is a reliable and time-tested instrument of Iranian foreign policy, and occasionally gets good results for the regime. Currently, there's a behind-the-scenes power struggle going on between the more conservative elements of the regime (e.g., the Revolutionary Guards) and the more reform-minded factions (led by the President Rouhani). Hostage-taking normally picks up a little during these kinds of skirmishes because the conservatives can use it to embarrass the reformers internationally.

    There's a lot going on in Iran right now -- in recent weeks thousands have taken to the streets of Tehran shouting such remarkable slogans as "Death to the Dictator," "God Bless the Shah," and "America Is Not Our Enemy," all captured on video and viewable online -- and the paucity of coverage by the American media has been very disappointing. Articles like this one are important because they remind us of the nastiness of this regime.

  36. This lacks meaningful historical context and perspective.

    Persian civilization has a rich history that dates back 2500 years.
    Iran is the Shia Muslim heir to that legacy. Iran is an implacable motivated foe of the Sunni Muslim Arab terrorist extremism of Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda and ISIS.

    But America engineered a coup against a democratic Iranian leadership on behalf of the British and British Petroleum that installed an autocratic dictator royal tyrant in power. Followed by America supprting it's ally Saddam Hussein and Iraq in a war against Iran that left a million Iranian casualties. America shot down a civilian Iranian plane. America and Israel have engaged in covert and overt regime change assasination, cyber and drone war against Iran.

    With 5% of humanity the 2.3 million Americans in prison are 25 % of the world's prisoners. And 40% of them are black like Ben Carson, even though only 13% of Americans are black. Because blacks are persecuted for acting like white people do without any criminal justice consequences.

    Unlike Israel, Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and no nuclear weapons. Unlike Israel , Iran has no ethnic sectarian supremacist colonies, ghettos and reservations. If only Mr. Wang and Mrs. Qu were ethnic Slavic communist atheist models like the Czech Ivana and the Slovenian Melania Trump then they might garner some Trump political base concern and empathy. MAGA!

    °Text without context is pretext" Jesse Jackson

  37. Gosh, managed to unfairly trash Israel even though the story is about a poor guy trapped in Iranian hell. Congratulations on your non-sequitor.

  38. Black Mamba--why do you persist in categorizing everyone on the basis of their race and ethnic identity? If it will make you feel any better Marla Maples, the second Mrs Trump, was a native born American citizen.

  39. Thank you so much for this detailed & well-written dive into international hostage politics.

    I was struck by a quote from an unnamed Obama official who refers to a monkey wrench in a deal by saying, "...it could have queered the deal..."

    As a gay person who grew up in a time when 'queer' was an epithet, I'm struggling to understand its use as a verb, in the past tense, no less, by an official of an Administration that was open to LGBT awareness!

  40. Your comment reminds me of people opposed to the word "niggardly." It isn't even spelled the same as the forbidden word but because it sounds the same Itbecomes unacceptable to the unlettered. Your positron is the fruit of three same ignorance. That a deal or agreement can be queered by interference is well known to the literate who also know that it bears no relation to what offends you.

    The OED says this about it:

    " b. to queer the pitch: (originally) to interfere with or spoil the business of a street vendor or performer (cf. pitch n.2 17a); (later more generally) to interfere with or spoil the business in hand; similarly to queer a person's pitch. Also in similar phrases, as to queer the game, to queer the deal, etc."

    I don't know how to deal with these kinds of

  41. Dear Deburrito,

    What an odd thing to quibble about. Currently, the word queer is a stand-in for "gay" in things like TV show titles ("Queer as Folk", "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"). The time it was used as an epithet is over. The slur starting with F is still an epithet, but not queer. Also, why on earth would any thinking person want to beat up on the Obama administration now, while we have an executive branch filled with incompetent, idiotic bigots?

  42. This is sad on so many levels. For the family, it's a calamity, and for Iran as a whole, it's an enormous wasted opportunity, akin to shooting oneself in the foot.

    Iran could easily become a great heritage destination with its well preserved historical cities such as Isfahan, Hamadan, Yadz, Persepolis, among countless others. But when incidents like this appear--foreigners interested in history who are arbitrarily detained, it has a huge chilling effect. For instance, I was hoping one day to visit Iran as a tourist, but never will as long as the threat of arbitrary arrest remains a real concern.

    Ultimately, the greatest ruin is falling on Iran itself. It has a huge number of unemployed but industrious youth, many of whom might be happy to take jobs in tourism if they were available. Instead, untold thousands are deprived of economic opportunities (and presumably, greater satisfaction with those in power) because of baseless paranoia. And in the end,it seems the greater danger to Iran is not phantom foreign spies in their midst but their own citizens marginalized by the embrace of paranoia as policy.

    It is not too late to step back. Freeing Xiyue Wang would be a great first step.

  43. Black people are profiled, stalked, stopped, harassed, beaten, shot, arrested and imprisoned in America for living while black.

    Who cares what happens to Americans in North Korea, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia or a dozen other countries where America has engaged in covert and overt wars that have killed, wounded, displaced and made refugees of millions.

  44. Black people are profiled, stalked, stopped, harassed, beaten, shot, arrested and imprisoned in America for living while black.

    Who cares what happens to Americans in North Korea, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan Somalia or a dozen other countries where America has engaged in covert and overt wars that have killed, wounded, displaced and made refugees of millions.

  45. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently offering tours to “Persia” so clearly there is still continuing American tourism to Iran. Arresting academics for hostage purposes is one thing, but arresting tourists and thereby jeopardizing the economic benefits of tourism is a line that the Iranian authorities do not want to cross.

  46. "For Washington, the hostage crisis that unfolded in November 1979, when revolutionary students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and held 52 diplomats and staff members captive for 444 days, would become a primal scene in U.S.-Iran relations. "

    For Iran the "primal scene in U.S.-Iran relations" came much earlier. Twenty-six years earlier... in 1953. That was the year the U.S. turned on Iran. And through the CIA with their "Operation Ajax" the United States overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran. Replacing their democratically elected leader with a CIA puppet.

    The Shah, with the help of the CIA, created the secret and brutal police force SAVAK. "SAVAK has been described as Iran's "most hated and feared institution" prior to the revolution of 1979 because of its practice of torturing and executing opponents of the Pahlavi regime."

    Why is it that this original sin (Operation Ajax) is never mentioned in stories pertaining to American/Iranian relations? It would certainly add some much needed and missing context.

  47. I believe Mr. Wang is over 35 years old reported in a previous NY Times article. I would say on average he is a bit old to study for a PhD degree. Either he was naïve or very determined to search for information in a country like Iran. Of course, regular travelers with definitive itinerary shouldn't have any problem for sight seeing in Iran. They love American dollars. But a free lance visitor with Chinese last name & appearance on a US passport in the name of scholarly research is very suspicious. If he were convicted, Mr. Wang will not be the first case that US uses foreign born Americans for spying work in an unfriendly country. However, it will be very bad for the Mr. Wang's family. My sincere sympathy to them that American dream turned to a nightmare.

  48. I will never be able to understand the excessive naivete needed to blithely go into the lands of America's enemies. In Iran's case, it is a most belligerant enemy. I have little doubt that his early welcome was for the purpose of getting him into the country for the express purpose of having a potential hostage in-country should they want one more. Wang has presented Iran with a bargaining chip at some level, what level we do not know.

  49. Chinese in the 1858 took hostage everyone in the British Embassy in Beijing and then tortured them very slowly, keeping them alive. When Lord Elgin arrived the Embassy staff was unrecognizable, their bodies from head to toe mutilated while they were alive. A little bit of Deja Vu here. The Chinese wife is on the receiving end.

  50. I’m not sure how this relates to Iran?

    You are talking about the Second Opium War, a moment in Anglo-French colonial history.

  51. Mr. Wang sounds like a very highly educated individual but with no common sense. The people at Princeton are also highly “educated” but should have stopped him from going or tried. What possesses these people to travel to a country which has a history of holding Americans on phony charges. What possessed the negotiators of the Obama administration in not insisting that the deal will not go through unless ALL Americans are released. I use the term “negotiators” loosely since the deal was a victory for the Iranians.

  52. MF:
    You don’t think that there was ANY benefit in postponing Iran’s nuclear program for ten years and supporting in the process the moderates in Iran?

  53. Unfortunately the first line of the article probably eliminates a lot of sympathy right away: "Xiyue Wang could easily never have gone to Iran."

    The best way never to get taken hostage in Iran, is never go to Iran. Likewise, never go to North Korea, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, or a dozen other countries where life is cheap and despots rule.

    People travelling to such places know the risks. They're like folks who climb mountains, or fly wing-suits, or hunt sharks with spearguns. They're risking their lives for the adrenaline thrill, and when they die, it is no big deal.

    And if Mr. Wang thought he needed to go to Iran to study 19th century governments in the area, then he should have realized that there's a wealth of material on such in civilized, modern countries as well. And also, he could have studied something useful instead.

    Sorry but I just don't see the point in worrying about people who throw their lives away foolishly. Take a look at this State department travel advisory: Do Not Travel To Iran. Open and shut case, this guy threw his life away for no good reason.


  54. Your comment that 'there's a wealth of material on such in civilized, modern countries' profoundly mischaracterizes the nature of historical research. All governments are not like one another in their function and structure from one century to the next. How could they possibly be?

    And why is learning about 19th-century Persian governance not 'useful'? Useful to whom? To those who want to better understand other cultures and their provenance? To those who seek more mutual trust between the West and Near East? Why must academic research meet your narrow criteria of economic usefulness to be worthy of passionate defense? Our ability to study, to wonder, and to be curious about the lives of others is what makes us human.

  55. Dear Catherine,
    I meant that there is a wealth of material on 19th century Persian government in modern countries. If he wanted to study different books, in different languages, closer to Iran, he could have gone to India, Israel, or even Turkey, and been a heck of a lot more safe.

    As for learning about 19th C. Persian gov't, it's not useful because it's just another variant of theological dictatorship. It's a culture that must fail if humanity is to survive, this fundamentalist fascist thing, so studying it seems a waste of time in the long term.

  56. Thanks Catherine, your reply makes a lot of sense to me. I still see it as a bad idea to travel to Iran at all, and I think Mr. Wang would have done better to study 19th century Middle Eastern government in Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, and so forth. Intellectual inquiry is a worthwhile pursuit, but it's a bad idea to be naive about the dangers of going into a fundamentalist, fascist state.

    Anyway, I wish you well, and I do hope Iran releases Mr. Wang. Hopefully too, people will learn from this to travel to such places with extreme caution, and only when absolutely necessary.

  57. I can see why Iran focused on him. He worked as a translator to American troops in Afghanistan.

  58. our spooks routinely use unsuspecting students, business people, and journalists to do what seems 'harmless' activity on their behalf. there's a lot more to it that's not being reported.

    it's hard to believe NYT devotes two articles on him thus far. I suspect he's on to something.

  59. Why can't Qu find a way to get the Chinese government involve in some way? It sounds like like they would have a far better chance than the US govt in finding a way to broker his release. Maybe it's a little naive but it's better than the approach they're taking now.

  60. That's how trump trolls & his despicable base operate, in ignorance & hate

  61. He is Chinese (and American too).

  62. she did.

    "And so in 2016, Qu, a Chinese national, focused her efforts on her own embassy. She thought she had made progress when Wang’s interrogator had him sign a document stating that he wished to be released to China. (Neither the Chinese nor the Iranian diplomatic representatives in the United States responded to requests for comment.) The Chinese had agreed to accept him, she recalls, even though he had relinquished his Chinese passport by becoming an American citizen. But then, Qu says, the Iranians reneged: They told the Chinese they wanted nothing short of an exchange of interest with the U.S. government."

  63. Mr. Princeton Graduate should have had the brains to stay out of a dictatorship run by religious fanatics. Now it's going to cost us a pallette full of cash to get him home.

  64. I am sure his CIA handlers still have pallets of money.

  65. I went to Iran 2 years ago as a tourist. It was, by far, the most welcoming and hospitable country I have ever traveled to. It was safe, fascinating, and beautiful. The people are young, educated, friendly and secular, and they don't like their government anymore than we do.

  66. Your need to insult Mr. wang' & your worry of the potential price is the most inhumane response to the sufferings of the Wang's;you rank as the most despicable of Trump's despicable base

  67. I've always been skeptical of the extreme worries about Iran building nuclear weapons. After all, it was the U.S. who originally gave Iran its civilian nuclear capabilities via the Atoms for Peace program in the Kennedy Administration. Has anyone actually considered that it is, indeed, for electricity? To me, the real threat from Iran is their hostage-taking. The Iranians scare the world about building nuclear weapons to distract from the real power they possess via ransom of prisoners. Their neighbor, Saddam, used the same subterfuge with his "WMDs." Why don't we get wise to this and ban travel to them until this stops?

  68. My sincere sympathies. Iran has acted here in the stupidest way possible, completely counter to its own national and economic interests.

    What Iran’s paranoid security services and leaders don’t seem to realize is that there are many non-Iranians who are genuinely interested in Iran, its history, its culture, its architecture, and outstanding achievements over thousands of years of Persian civilization. Mr. Wang took the trouble to learn Farsi and immersed himself in Qajar dynasty history so that ultimately those of us interested in the region’s culture would have a greater understanding and appreciation of it. And his reward: to be literally spit in the face and thrown into prison.

    This attitude is a real shame, as Iran has a rich cultural heritage that could—one day—make it one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Cities such as Isfahan, Persepolis, Hamadan, Yazd, and numerous others are positively stunning.

    Iran today has a huge number of unemployed youths who would benefit from the jobs tourism can bring. In giving in to paranoia and imprisoning Wang, the Iranian authorities are hurting their own national interests, effectively tanking a whole sector of the economy and bringing their cash-poor country ever closer to ruin. Tourists like me will never dare to come, and the economic losses will mount.

    It does not have to be this way, but change from this paranoid, self-defeating mindset will be a long effort. Freeing Mr. Wang would be a good first step.

  69. Sorry readers for the largely duplicate comment...thought my original one didn't go through!

  70. If only we had reached a diplomatic accord with Iran that could help facilitate the return of this man to his family. Oh wait, we did, but Trump ripped it in two and, for good measure, banned any Iranians from entering the country for no reason whatsoever.

    This is what happens when a morally bankrupt leader doesn’t understand a simple concept: diplomacy is not weakness, it is power.

  71. @Jennifer S:
    This sort of comment is not helpful and I'm surprised that the NYT made it a pick given the tone.

    I'm certain you're aware that Obama negotiated a terrible agreement. (Now) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was against the original agreement.

    Hero and former CIA Director General David Petraeus said Trump was right to reopen the negotiations. Let's assume that both Schumer and a leading General and former CIA Director know far more than you and I about this sort of thing.

    Obama made a bad deal.

    Iran has managed to use the funds that Obama unfroze as part of the agreement to send weapons to Syria among other places.

    Regardless on one's motives, I hope that instead of visiting countries such as Iran and North Korea, people consider visiting other countries that have great history but are safe. For example, Turkey and Israel if one want to know Middle East history.

  72. Robert Levinson, a US citizen has been held captive in Iran since 2007. Iran must release all US citizens and send them home safely to the US prior to any deals Trump makes with Iran.

  73. It’s one thing to ban people to enter a country and it is another to arrest one who has a valid visa.

  74. Wow some mean spirited, judgmental comments. Hindsight is always 20/20. All I can do is feel sympathy for this family and the helpless situation they find themselves in. I hope someone can help.

  75. what hindsight?? you mean Iran has never taken hostages so this came out of nowhere?? is your next vacation destination North Korea or Syria?

  76. It is the Time of Trump, and mean spirited, judgmental comments are completely normal. The least of our worries too, since they're only words.

  77. Dear Fredrik,
    Sorry but there is no way millions of Americans have visited Iran in the past decade. Iran gets millions of tourists per year, but Americans are the smallest group. Maybe hundreds have visited in the last decade, and dozens taken hostage, so the odds are pretty bad.

  78. Personally, I would never go there, its a demon state backwardly run by fanatics that live in pre-history mode. The average person wants to live a free life, safe and warm, all countries have them. Unfortunately a good majority of the globe is compromised by persons that have been seduced by the power that greed enforces and are convinced that their ideologies are superior to all. Power struggles ensue games are played, people suffer. In the past 40 or so years more and more innocents are being abducted and killed to facilitate or force a political end. This held student so gifted, so good, never considered the evil dark hearts of men and was oblivious in the true light of education in association with scholars and the grail of ancient texts. Hopefully this well written article will shed some light and help resolve this heart rending problem.

  79. The fact of the matter is that individuals often end up being pawns in geopolitical games.

    Don't pay the ransom, and you get raked over the coals by the hostage's family and PR apparatus, pay the ransom and you telegraph that crime pays. So there's no obvious great answer.

    The real answer is that you create an environment and incentives where they don't take hostages. The JCPOA was a first step on that road. Of course, the hardliners there opposed it because it would eventually loosen their hold on power, and hardliners here opposed it because their only solution is war and regime change. And now US hardliners are in charge.

    The difference is that under the previous Administrations, the hostage issue was one that was considered in the overall context of relations. In this one, its pure roadkill, given the lack of coherence of it on most issues, and foreign relations specifically.

  80. "Do not travel to Iran due to the risk of arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens.

    There is a very high risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens in Iran, particularly U.S.-Iranian dual nationals.

    Iranian authorities continue to unjustly detain and imprison U.S. citizens, including students, journalists, business travelers, and academics, on charges including espionage and posing a threat to national security. U.S.-Iranian dual nationals are particularly susceptible to arrest for these charges. Consular access to detained U.S. citizens is often denied."

    The US State Department travel warnings.

  81. "Do not travel to Iran due to the risk of arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens."

    Can the SAME not be said about refugee claimants arriving at the US borders???

    Aren't the matters even worse since refugee claimants with children will be FORCIBLY separated from their OWN children???

  82. Iran, of course, is no angel!

    However, the way people are demonizing Iran ALSO implies that the US is a victim - if not an angel too.

    Such people conveniently and/or selectively seem to have a collective amnesia about how the US had treated Iran in the past. In 1953 the US – with British help – engineered coup against Mohammad Mosaddeq to topple his democratically elected government. They did so because Mosaddeq nationalized their oil industry.

    That allowed their puppet Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to be the absolute monarch. This brute was eventually driven out by the 1979 revolution.

    In the Iran-Iraq war, the US sided with Saddam Hussein and actively encouraged him to invade Iran with disastrous effects for BOTH countries. There is this infamous video of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with another brute Saddam Hussein. Ironically, it was Donald Rumsfeld who in turn engineered ANOTHER disastrous US campaign against Saddam Hussein and the results will be felt not just now but for MANY years to come!!

    Then, "On 3 July 1988, Iran Air Flight 655, a scheduled civilian passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai, was shot down by an SM-2MR surface-to-air missile fired from USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser of the United States Navy."

    Guess what would have happened if the Iranian Navy did that to an American civilian flight???

    Only a few US transgressions in that part of the word are being mentioned here.

    So who is the demon and who is the angel here???

  83. At least Iran doesn't lock people up for weeks for minor immigration violations like the US does -- latest incident that I am aware is the French woman jogging on the beach in BC who unknowingly strayed over the US border and was arrested and held for 3 weeks by US border patrol. It's incidents like these that have led many countries to issue warnings about the dangers of travel to the USA.

  84. I think it is somewhat disingenuous to imply as Ms. Secor does that the Iranian tax evader arrested by the Americans is the moral equivalent of Wang.

  85. Maybe if we lifted ALL the sanctions, the economic sanctions, etc., that have been placed against Iran at the whim of our politicians due to mass hysteria induced by politicians campaigning to the ignorant American voter then maybe all these prisoners could come home.

    Do a piece on what the economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran and what those sanctions have done to Iran. Do a piece from Iran's perspective.

  86. Chinese in the 1858 took hostage everyone in the British Embassy in Beijing and then tortured them slowly, while keeping them alive. When Lord Elgin arrived the Embassy staff was unrecognizable

  87. Is your point then to say that it's OK for Iran to hold an innocent Chinese origin BECAUSE some people in China took British Embassy staff hostage and tortured them 160 YEARS ago???

    Even if what happened was true, committing another wrong, therefore, is justified?

    Do YOU know that what you described - even if true - happened during the Second Opium War in which the western countries pillaged China???

    Are you ALSO implying that western nations, INCLUDING the US, were angels all throughout the history or even in modern times???

  88. There is a comment below objecting to using the word "queer"in the sense it was used here. It reminds me of objections to the use of the word "niiggardly," a perfectly good word not only spelled differently from the forbidden one, but only sounding a bit like it. This kind of illiteracy leads to the comment below, which is grounded in ignorance. To "queer the deal" has nothing to do with derogatory references based on gender preferences.

    Here's what the OED has to say about it:

    " b. to queer the pitch: (originally) to interfere with or spoil the business of a street vendor or performer...; (later more generally) to interfere with or spoil the business in hand; similarly to queer a person's pitch. Also in similar phrases,... to queer the deal, etc."

    The word's derogatary use, unlike the word in question, seems to have Germanic roots. In any event, the word now "has been used as a neutral or positive term, originally by some homosexuals" says the OED.

    The lesson of all this? In my view it is that we should always read (a lot) before we comment.

  89. Gee, is it really true that over half the people we meet are of below average intelligence? Lol.

  90. On another level for Mr Wang, not mentioned in this article is the case of Islamic extremism and it’s ongoing suicidal battles with western modernity. It’s not just a chess game for cash or nuke power. It is a strong authoritarian belief that their superstitious delusions trump logic, personal liberty and enlightenment. Thusly an existential belief that global domination is inevitable and Mr Wang is an unimportant pawn. This is what we are dealing with.

  91. On rereading my comment on Mr Wangs predicament I believe I sounded too personally harsh about him and his family’s tragedy. I must apologize. I meant to set the context of his case against the toxic feudal state run religiosity practice of the Iranian nation. I weep for Mr Wang and hope that his terrible trepidation soon be over.

  92. This is a situation where President Obama could actually do some good. He could trade his Nobel Peace Prize trophy.

  93. President Obama's work was undone by Trump. No reason to give back that prize.

  94. It wasn't my decision, but all humans shall die. That's just life.

  95. Many of the ‘prisoners’ at Guantanamo are hostages too. Dark sites. Rendition sites. The US has weaker standing to blame Iran - they go through their ‘trial’ process. Not quite as bad as NoKo - latest buddy.

    [ off topic, but: the US has been interfering in voting in many countries over the years, Even worse, in ‘regime change’.]

  96. Being in prison does not make Otto Warmbier and Xiyue Wang equivalent to those in Guantanamo. We know what Otto and Xiyue was accused of and you know it too. Now knowing these two young men and their fate in the hands of Iran and North Korea, many people would be very happy to see these regimes gone.

  97. I agree.

  98. What a saddening but necessary story.

  99. Hostage taking has become common. Turkey's Erdogan has been doing it, too. But then, so has the US. For example, during the Iraq war, the wife of a high-value target would be arrested when they couldn't get the husband--to force him to surrender.

    Trump the Despicable, with his entirely transactional view of the world, should be able to deal with this sort of thing rather well.

  100. "Freedom of expression was too hard a thing to give up, said the man who had been wiretapped for a decade...."

    I didn't know whether the above comment of Ahmad Sheikhzadeh, Iranian consultant for its UN mission in New York, was intended to be funny, but it certainly got a chuckle out of me of me initially. But upon reflection, it made me sad to think how different Mr. Sheikhzadeh's conception of freedom of thought and speech is from my own own. That an Iranian feels he is freer to think and speak in a country, the USA, whose "law enforcement monitored his every phone call and collected his every email", speaks loudly and depressingly about Iran's lack of this most basic of human freedoms.

    One cannot help but wonder how Iran's "hardliners" can justify legally or religiously the kidnapping of scholars and tourists to use to coerce financial concessions and prisoner swaps from other nations. But of course this is nothing new, as hostage-taking and bargaining is played by every nation, including the US. The difference is that we have had a rule of law which has done a reasonably good job in preventing innocent persons from being used as hostages, as Mr. Sheikhzadeh's case arguably indicates. But with our current president, I'm not so sure the rule of law will continue here.

    For 2,500+ years Iranians have known only despotism and religion. Until there is a secularism and a constitution like ours in Iran, there will never be any real rule of law or basic human freedoms there.

  101. Great Article. My heart goes out to Mr. Wang and his family. I am saddened by some of the harsh comments. Mr. Wang is a researcher and was there to do his work.

    According to the article there are anywhere from 100,000 to 400,000 people traveling to Iran every year (most are Iranian American nationals). It made sense for him to take that chance for his work.

    Iran is not all black and white. I have met American tourists who have visited Iran and were amazed by the Iranians hospitality.

  102. Very sad and frustrating situation, especially for Hua Qu and Shaofan.
    In their intransigence to set Mr. Wang free, the Iranian government is sending a clear message: we will catch and jail foreign agents. It appears Mr. Wang might be a victim of "plausible denial". He went to Iran to do research for his thesis, but was caught trying to get files that probably were coded as "sensitive" by Iran's counterintelligence. Either the high number of files or the nature of the files themselves triggered a red flag. He certainly was under surveillance by the VAJA since the moment he got to Iran.
    One must ask why he, and few others, get arrested and the Iranian government refuses to let them go. Did Mr. Wang's laptop, phone, or usb memory sticks had some sort of virus that was intended to disrupt or interfere with a critical process, much like the one that infected the centrifuges involved in Iran's nuclear program? If this is the case, Iran won't divulge it to keep "hostile forces" from learning about its countermeasures, which are excellent. So there is no way Mr. Wang's legal team can present an effective defense against espionage.
    Let's not forget CIA, under the SAVAK, organized modern Iran's intelligence apparatus, and after so many years of external threats they have become very proficient.
    Under the current political atmosphere, I fear Mr. Wang might not see his dear family anytime soon, unless Princeton proves he was just a graduate student when he went to Iran.

  103. While I sympathize with the family but there’s two sides to the story. In the article it mentioned there are roughly 100-400k us citizens traveling to Iran each year , majority of them made out fine. Cases of being arrested were rare , so ask yourself why did they arrest him on the pretext of spying? Maybe he was doing something for the US government? Princeton does have a robust C.I.A. program in the early days ...no?

  104. Wow, Laura. Wow.
    First off, this was an incredible read.
    As a film/politics fanatic, I felt as if I was reading a soon-to-be episode of "Homeland" or an "Frontline" documentary. I could even hear Sarah Koenig's (Serial) voice in my head. I hope you take this as a compliment because I was hooked, perplexed, and heartbroken.
    This exploitation of Iranian-Americans on the FBI's behalf really threw me for a loop. Iran might be dangerous grounds for journalists, researchers, and tourists. But this idea that any small crimes committed by Iranian-Americans is grounds for betrayal is new to me.
    Again, wow.

  105. Fundamentalist, paranoid regimes controlling significant world populations, world resources. How many hostages are there if you count the number of people living under arbitrary regimes with no rule of law, no recourse if you are in the wrong side of someone with power? The best answer is democratic change from within and the best tools are the same ones we've always used -- our earnest goodwill, our optimism, our belief in our democratic institutions, our openness, our friendliness, our diversity, our pluralism, our religious freedom. And of course, media and jeans. Iran will reform from within. In the meantime, find out what the price is and figure out if there is a way to pay it without too much damage. And until this stops, no more research trips by anyone.

  106. Do we still remember Otto Warmbier, the undergraduate student from Virginia who died of torture in North Korea jail? His crime is to "steal" a banner of the North Korean propaganda from the hotel he stayed. Wang was accused of stealing the state secret which was in fact open and available in Iran. How much could the world tolerate this nuisence any longer?

    The very act of prisoning the innocent young people like Otto and Xiyue reflects the barbarian and crue nature of these regimes. If there are still people in the world who naively believe in them, these cases would remind them what evil is. Iran and North Korea did a great job in changing people's opinions from neutural or sympathizing to despise and hatred toward these regimes.

  107. First a free things have to be stayed in these comments in a more balanced way.

    First, we do not know what other activities this man may have been involved in. It seems he is completely innocent. But in some activities, that is the goal.

    Second, it does seem rather foolhardy for a married man with a child would do this, but apparently at near a hundred thousand others do it annually. This happened to me once (see below) and I was more prudent.

    Third, and penultimately, whether my first or second comments (or both!) the man doesn't and never did deserve this treatment and as a US citizen, or even if not, as a human being he deserves all our aid, as did the Thai children, to find safety.

    Finally, two personal notes. I had a tennis partner for many years who was one of the two members of a certain agency (he always insisted, tellingly, that he worked and still did, for "the oil industry") who, from the basement of a Tehran Hilton hotel, conducted and ran the purportedly popular coup against the elected (Socialist) government. My friend then helped install the Shah, whose butchery led to the present fiercely and understandably anti American government. I remember when he and his family travelled to the Shah's lavish and opulently insulting anniversary celebration in Tehran.

    Years later that agency asked me to travel to a newly independent Eastern European country, known to be an "outlaw. Days before departure they said it had become too dangerous. I didn't go.

  108. When I returned from my second tour with the Peace Corps, a truly great organization - thank you JFK - I found an apartment on Essex Street in NYC's first Chinatown. I was the only non-Chinese in the building. Almost all of the others were old Chinese men who had been afraid to go home to visit family members because the US had told them they might not be able to return here. These men were afraid that their family members would starve if they didn't send them money, so they stayed and worked until they could no longer do so. By this time the turmoil in China made it impossible for them to contact relatives. Most of them died in that building in the early 1970s.

    Also in the early 70s, Roger B returned from his Peace Corps duty in Iran. He told me how much he enjoyed his time in Iran and what nice people the Iranians were. Over the next 5 years or so I met many of his friends and other young Iranians studying at NYC colleges. They were like Americans, but a bit friendlier. After Iran agreed to stringent cutbacks on their arms programs, I still noticed no change in my Iranian friends. They were the same good guys and girls.

    After Trump decided he hated Obama and sabotaged his program to eliminate Iran's atomic weapons program, my Iranian friends changed a bit, and felt that we were acting like the rulers of the world - with our 7000 plus A bombs while Iran didn't have the right to develop any.

    It is kind of arrogant of Trump. Don't you think? But that's Trump!

  109. I still can't comprehend why anyone that is sane enough would want to go to Iran. Heck, this is my country and I can't understand why would anyone want to come here. I have known so many people that left the USA to go live in Europe and Australia. The message I get from those Americans that left is you won't believe how amazing it is until you leave that place. Leave for a year and you won't want to go back to the USA. Your mind will expand exponentially. I guess it would but I prefer my dysfunctional family, there isn't a dull day in this country. Who wants peace of mind, terrific health care and great education when you can have great drama?

    It is a good story but he made the choice to go to a country that loves to take prisoners for political games. The country is famous for taking hostages. Especially if they have any connection to the USA. It is like a lottery ticket. He lost.

  110. Hostage taking has become common. Turkey's Erdogan has been doing it, too. But then, so has the US. For example, during the Iraq war, the wife of a high-value target would be arrested when they couldn't get the husband--to force him to surrender.

    Trump the Despicable, with his entirely transactional view of the world, should be able to deal with this sort of thing rather well.

  111. It behooves Iran to not lose their minds. 45 has presented Iran with a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to look like the bigger man. Every action this administration does is ham fisted, half hearted, and in the open for ratings. A naturalized U.S. citizen who spends all his time in the archives is not a IC spy.

    You can literally just say while Trump is president, every American can visit Iran given proper vetting and bam, effective political capital with possible sanctions relief in Europe, Asia, and possibly the next American administration.

  112. Horrible situation with people from both sides watching their lives pass, for reasons that don't directly involve them. I'm very angry that this is happening.

    I know it sounds absurd but we could 1) tell all american citizens to leave Iran; 2) once they've left, lock up every single iranian visiting america (not us citizens of course); then 3) do the prisoner exchange and then 4) work to prevent Iran from receiving any benefit from international commerce or study.

    Cleary my suggestion is very harsh but the conditions of the detainment need not be, we can do the velvet glove/iron first thing.

  113. How is that in the US press, the handful of Americans arrested in Iran are always "hostages," but the 1000s of Iranians rotting away in the USA's brutal "justice" system, many in notorious "supermax" facilities are just "prisoners?" In any event nothing described in this article is remotely similar to my own experience in Iran, where many Iranians -- official and non-official -- bent over backwards to accommodate me, even when I committed a minor immigration infraction that the US border patrol would throw an Iranian into prison for several weeks before even giving them a chance to defend themselves had s/he committed a similar infraction in the USA. Why not an article on the abuses foreign visitors, particularly Iranians, are subjected to by CBP, ICE, FBI or Border Patrol?

  114. A good rule of thumb is never travel to a country that does not afford due process. Iran, North Korea and Turkey are nations notorious for hostage-taking. Negotiations w/ such nations will only embolden them to engage in more hostage-taking

  115. @Ari - good rule of thumb. And as part of due process, I include gun safety. After the arbitrary police-killing of unarmed Aussie Justine Damond, that's why I'll never set foot in USA, not ever again.

  116. Mr. Wang’s problem is that Iran is not a nation that abides by Western morals or Western law. The World needs to comprehend that the Shia regime in Iran is an Islamic derivative of ancient Persian tribalism. Persia has always been both a place of brilliant people and horrific conflicts. Tribalism in the Islamic Middle East takes on many brutal forms as we have seen with ISIS, as we have seen in how Shiites in Iraq suppressed Sunnis, and as we see in the conflicts of many Arab states with Iran. We see, as well, that Iran sees brutal opportunities in Syria, promoting the Alawites of al Assad, a sect of Shiism. The sad reality is that, in this type of scenario, the “axis of evil” declared by GWBush has a foundation of truth.
    We have to realize that Hamas in Gaza engages in the same patterns of hostage taking and is at least as likely to make the kinds of demands that the Iranians seem to make.
    The history in the Middle East indicates that just as Mohamed was a wandering marauder, so also was Israeli King David who subdued and extracted tribute from many tribes South and West of the Euphrates. And, the empires that have conquered the ME in the last 3000 years have been equally brutal. Israel is a contrasting beacon of light but don’t expect any World effort to change this hostage taking, marauding mindset to change. Is it genetic, linked to thousands of years of survival of the fittest?

  117. Can you understand the naivete in believing that these people are really just "students" and not being "handled" by an agency?

  118. I disagree. Wang could have been myself in another life. As a graduate student in East Asian Languages and Cultures I occasionally had to access foreign archives for my MA thesis. It's part-and-parcel of gathering original material, as the whole point of research is to work with original documents that frequently aren't published outside of one's country of focus. While it was ill-advised and ultimately a huge error for Wang to attempt to get the Qajar-era documents via his "workaround", he may have felt that his whole future as a serious researcher was at risk if he couldn't obtain the data he needed. He should have taken a step back and realized it was not worth the risk (despite the many months of effort spent learning Farsi, etc.), but in the moment I can understand why he made the decision he did.

  119. "And also, he could have studied something useful instead."

    I'm not sure how that adds to the discussion. Everything is useful to someone at some point. It may not be your interest, but its possible that Wang's work could have ultimately resulted in greater regional collaboration among scholars, which could have had a modest but meaningful impact on improved relations/understanding between Iran's neighbors, and a better understanding among scholars (and those of us interested in the area, such as myself) of regional history.

    And no, I highly doubt that Farsi language Qajar-dynasty era documents are readily available in "civilized" (?) countries. If they were, then why go to Iran?

    Yes, Wang was very naive, but the work he was doing was most definitely "useful".

  120. It's pretty amazing that so many of these "students" that get held prisoner in places like Iran and N. Korea, have resumes that read like a CIA wish list for officers. What a coincidence.

  121. Hahaha! Totally. "Gee, I love languages! Where should I go?"

  122. ... and every now and then i cannot help but ask myself, vainly: where would iran be today if the US of A [operation ajax] had not helped depose dr. mossadegh, prime minister until 1953?

  123. Exactly. That is the root of the problems with Iran that followed.

  124. I look forward to seeing Scarlet Johansen play Mrs. Qu.

  125. Prayers to the family, let’s get this man home.

  126. How could a university approve a study plan for a thesis that includes travel to a country like Iran or Afghanistan or North Korea?

  127. Start loading the pallettes with the cash, Swiss Francs. They don't take dollars.

    Forgot? Ask the Obama people how that works.

    I'll bet they take dollars for their oil exports which should be shut down until they get normal.

  128. Today in the Guardian there is an opinion piece by the husband of a duel British/Iranian woman who is imprisoned in Iran, "Boris Johnson is gone but his vow to free my wife must be kept" Richard Radcliffe. It brings to mind the case of a duel Canadian/Iranian women who died in the Evin prison Zahra Kazemi, who was arrested after photographing outside the prison. I recall years ago being approached by someone who I assumed was of Iranian descent on the streets of Vancouver, gathering signatures for Canadian government action against the outrage. I could never understand why anyone would go back to such a country when the risks are so well known. A simple google search for the spelling of Aahra Kazemi's name pulls up another Canadian/Iranian duel citizen who is being held. Iran does not recognize duel citizenship. Traveler beware

  129. Continuing my earlier comment, which enumerated some hard-to-swallow info that this story presents at face value:

    3)The story says the National Archives of Iran refused to give Wang permission to access the research materials he wanted to see & get them burned a to a disk. So instead, Wang agreed to have an Iranian researcher request the material & have it transmitted to a disk under the Iranian's name, all the while with the intent that Wang would take the disk back to the US with him. The NYT presents this as an innocent "workaround" that lots of people from all over do in Iran all the time with no negative repercussions.

    So when Wang soon found himself in hot water with the Iranian authorities, the NYT presents this as an unexpected consequence Wang couldn't have foreseen when, in fact, it was the predictable result of obtaining the purloined disk. After all, the hardline Islamists who run the Islamic Republic of Iran are widely known to be persnickety about breaking their many rules. What's more, the Iranian govt. is well known for seeing every Westerner as a spy, & for wishing death to Americans.

    I feel for Wang's family & hope he's home soon. But I'm surprised by the naiveté with which this story is reported. The idea that an American got imprisoned in Iran for breaking Iran's clear rules & trying to sneak a disk of materials stolen from its National Archives to the USA - how can the NYT be shocked by this? It's like gambling at Rick's.

  130. Translating ancient archives is not spying and should not carry a 10 year prison term.

  131. Due process like our New York City plea bargaining system?

  132. “And the man was knowledgeable in the things of life, but only the things, not the significances....”

    - Jack London
    “To Build a Fire”

  133. So according to the left in this country, it's ok to negotiate with this horrible country but not with North Korea? Hmmmmm.

  134. As far as I know, the left does not oppose negotiating with Iran. the opposition is to slavishly praising a brutal dictatorship and making huge concessions in return for empty promises.

  135. Wake up call: there is no "left" or "right" anymore. Unless, that is, you care to define them for us when you comment.

  136. No sympathy for his guy or anyone else who goes to Iran, North Korea, etc.
    If you go to a hostile country - or a country essentially at war with the United States, you take your life in your own hands.
    Don’t come crying for help.

  137. Disgusting comment.

  138. @Old Man Fortunately, you are still in the minority in this country. Most of us have retained our souls and appreciate the sacrifice that academics and NGO aid workers do around the world to try to make it a better place. We have sympathy and empathy for people in pain and don't take joy in kicking them when they are down.

  139. Once again the Times emphasizes the elite. What if the gentleman went to a state school?

  140. Replying to Dady from Wyoming:
    What does that have to do with anything? What difference would that make?

  141. I feel for this family, but several things struck me as odd about this story.

    First, the NYT omits Wang's age. He's 38, which means he was well into middle age when he went to Iran.

    Also left out is how Wang was supporting himself & his family while a grad student. We're told he grew up in the diplomatic enclave in Beijing & went to Harvard; does he have family wealth? Or is there a lot of money in researching "similarities across regional governments in 19th-century inner Asia"?

    This story also presents at face value info that's hard to swallow. Starting with:

    1) Despite the US State Dept.'s advisory that Americans NOT go to Iran under any circumstances, Wang, a Chinese-born American citizen, "set out for Iran without a worry" because for some reason not made clear, he decided that for him Iran is 100% safe. It never occurred to him that his history working for Western powers in Afghanistan might be viewed unfavorably by Islamist authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    2) In Iran, Wang ran into research-hindering problems he did not not anticipate. First, there was Nowruz, the Persian new year that people there have been celebrating in a big way for 3,000 years. And then there was Ramadan, which Muslims have been observing for 1,400 years. How could these events have come as a surprise?

    Then there's the famous traffic that makes getting around Tehran nigh impossible. Wang, fluent in many tongues & world-traveled, didn't Google life in Tehran beforehand?

  142. I'm not sure what you are trying to 'prove' with your comments here - Insinuate that Wang was not simply a student innocent of wrongdoing? Blame a man who has suffered enough already?

    1) Many people start their PhDs later in life, particularly in history, where language skills (especially rare ones, such as Mr. Wang had) and experiences working and living internationally are highly prized. PhD programs at places like Princeton pay a stipend to their students, who are also teaching assistants and graders. Also, his wife is lawyer; he did not need to support his family alone.

    2) As a historian who has logged countless hours in archives, it's always hard to anticipate exactly how long your research will take. I work in open, western cities, and I still have a hard time each visit finding a place to stay and feeling my way around new repositories. Obviously Wang knew that he would run into holidays and closures, but perhaps this was the only period he could spare for research from his schedule (considering the school year, his family demands, etc.) The reporter wasn't saying that these difficulties were totally unexpected, only that it turns out to be hard to fast if you're not accustomed to it, and that research in unfamiliar settings can be frustrating, no matter how well-traveled you are. That's what makes the product of good historical research so costly.

  143. 3) Did Wang take a risk in using a workaround to try to obtain his documents? Yes. Is a ten-year long imprisonment for espionage in a show trial the logical or even foreseeable outcome of that particular risk - especially considering the content of those documents? I'd argue no. Despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations between Iran and the US, there are still scholars who go back and forth between the two countries to conduct legitimate academic research, and do so unmolested. As should be the case.

  144. Indeed, too many “odd” details. That’s what makes counterintelligence work so exciting , and certainly interesting for the Iranian professionals who are under lots of pressure to catch agents entering the country under the tired old cover story of a student doing research, and getting “lost” while hiking in the countryside, or trying to get information from those he comes in contact.
    Did Princeton really believed Mr. Wang would just get in, get the information (or the contacts) he was after, and leave ?
    This ought to be a warning to other bright and intelligent “students” going to Iran with the naive idea of mixing study with less-than-honorable purposes. It might sound exciting, but no promise of academic honors and/or a career in government is worth the suffering in a foreign jail, or the anguish and pain inflicted on ones family.

  145. Ms. Qu should contact the EU mission in Brussels. They are in permanent contact with Iran and have better cards than an American entity.

    This move should help her husband.

  146. It would be easy to blame Iran for every bad thing that American citizens experience there....and with good reason. However, do not overlook the ineptness, incompetence and even psychological cruelty our own government levies on the families of the imprisoned and our inability to apply humane planning to solve this problem. A more frightening lesson can be drawn as well from trump's own statements about prisoners in general and his immoral disdain for people like John McCain. For all of trump's bluster about POW's and disrespect for them one might wonder how much he would bear up under such treatment by captors?

  147. I sympathize with the families of the hostages but can't for the life of me figure out why people would put themselves at risk having anything to do with the criminal regime in Iran; or North Korea; or any similar places well know for having no regard for human rights.

  148. There are basically two reasons: 1. Students who venture into highly original doctoral research are highly talented, idealistic, ambitious, and hard working. Why would they not use the unique opportunity to change the world just a little for the better, and get that 6 figure first year salary and their story in the media ? The alternative would be like never taking a flight again after 9/11, because there could be a terrorist attack, or flying someplace to just cash in on the hidden treasure ! 2. Institutions and agencies that support such research are the world's most accomplished professional liars, manipulators and persuaders. I also could take a Rambo Team right now, fly to Iraq and Syria and kill Baghdadi. Who is to say that what is promised in the extraordinarily professional surroundings of e.g., the Department of Defense, could ever fail ? All I really have to do is buy a plane ticket ! The very sad truth is that talented idealistic, courageous and ambitious natures are highly susceptible to professionally trained con artists, particularly if these have a high stake in the game.

  149. "A voice-over explained that Princeton and Harvard were suborganizations of the C.I.A. and the National Security Council. They assigned their students’ thesis topics in accordance with the information the United States government wished to collect." Highly unfortunately, this kind of constellation (with some of the names changed) is true. Agencies and institutions use gullible idealistic students to make big bucks, almost for free. Not all students end up in predicaments as dire as Wang's, but aberrations in their lifes years later speak of the unnatural and distasteful set-ups they had to endure. The hammer is that these students hardly ever see a cent of the big bucks they put their lifes on the line for the agencies and institutions to make ! What an utterly disreputable abuse of the First Amendment ! Not to speak of the reality that students who refuse the arrangement end up homeless and chronically unemployed.

  150. "A voice-over explained that Princeton and Harvard were suborganizations of the C.I.A. and the National Security Council. They assigned their students’ thesis topics in accordance with the information the United States government wished to collect." Highly unfortunately, it is the lamentable reality and truth that constellations of power such as these (with some of the names changed) have been using gullible, idealistic students to make big bucks, almost for free. I have encountered the same as a graduate student several times. Some instances are relatively benign inquiries for information, but other cases are explicitly vicious, putting the defenseless and naive in great risk and danger so the mighty and powerful can add even more fat pockets (one wonders how many fat pockets a person can even carry around !). Aberrations in these students lives many years later speak of the unnatural and distasteful circumstances they had to endure. The abuse of First Amendment freedom is unspeakable ! Not to speak of the reality that students hardly ever see a penny, and those that refuse such 'collaboration' can have professional reputations ruined and end up chronically unemployed and homeless. Unclear why students would be expected to do the work of international treaties and professional diplomacy. Does the world really have to be such an abysmal evil place ?

  151. I am grieved by this story. Is no one on his faculty old enough to remember the Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-1981)? I feel like greater caution should have been expressed to this brilliant scholar who would not have that memory. I hope that Princeton University feels a grave sense of responsibility and is using the strength of their position and influence on our government to bring this man's life to the negotiating table in order to secure his freedom.

  152. STUXNET. Enough said.

  153. This story is so thoroughly depressing in all its aspects. Most of all, at the personal level of this young mother living in a foreign country with a young child to raise and finding herself in this maze of diplomatic dysfunction, detestable Iranian realpolitik, and a distracted U.S. President who has been in office since January of 2017 and has yet to appoint anyone to the post that has authority in this ordeal. I also have to seriously question the wherewithal of Princeton University to not steer its academics away from traveling to Iran given the predictably bad behavior of the theocratic regime there that collects and trades hostages like Baseball Cards.

  154. The Iranian regime understands only one language- force. The only way America can fulfill its obligations to its citizens to protect their life and liberty, is to give Iran na ultimatum. If hostages are not released within a week, the US will declare war on Iran.