LANDSTUHL, Germany — Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter freed Saturday after almost 18 months of incarceration in an Iranian prison, met with Post editors Monday for the first time since his release and said he was “feeling good” physically as he recovers in a U.S. military hospital here.
The Washington Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron, and foreign editor, Douglas Jehl, said Rezaian “looked good” during their two-hour meeting in a conference room at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein Air Base.
Rezaian, 39, was flown out of Iran on Sunday along with two other freed Iranian Americans as part of a prisoner deal with Iran linked to the implementation of a landmark nuclear agreement.
Baron and Jehl said Monday evening that the face-to-face meeting so soon after Rezaian’s release from Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison was an encouraging sign. Doctors and psychiatrists at the hospital are still assessing his health, and the recovery process in similar cases has taken months or years.
“I want people to know that physically, I’m feeling good,” said Rezaian, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans provided to him aboard the Swiss plane that flew the men to freedom. “I know people are eager to hear from me, but I want to process this for some time.’’
Also released in the deal were former Marine Amir Hekmati, 32, of Flint, Mich., and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, 35, of Boise, Idaho. Accompanying Rezaian on the flight were his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian, and his mother, Mary Rezaian. A fourth Iranian American released as part of the arrangement, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, opted to remain in Iran. An American student who was freed separately, Matthew Trevithick, 30, flew out Saturday on his own.
Abedini had been imprisoned since July 2012 for organizing home churches. Hekmati spent more than four years behind bars on spying charges following his arrest in August 2011 during a visit to see his grandmother.
The historic nuclear accord with Iran dropped economic sanctions against the country and returned tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets in exchange for restrictions and tighter safeguards on Iran’s nuclear program.
Members of Hekmati’s family and the congressman from their district, Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.), met with Hekmati at the U.S. military hospital for about 15 minutes Monday, the family announced.
On Monday, Rezaian described months of extraordinarily limited human interaction and said that at one point he spent 49 days in solitary confinement. Later, he was put in a 15-by-20-foot room with three cots and no mattresses. For exercise, he said, he would walk for up to five hours every day around an 8-by-8-foot concrete courtyard.
Rezaian also talked about some of the conditions of his detention, which Baron and Jehl said they could discuss only partially. For most of his time in prison, Rezaian said, he was being held by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, a military force aligned with hard-
liners in the government that answers to Iran’s supreme leader and acts independently of the presidency.
Even when Rezaian was taken to hospitals — twice for eye infections and once for a groin infection — as his health suffered in prison, they were facilities run by the Revolutionary Guard.
There were concerns that Rezaian could be used as a bargaining chip by hard-liners in the Iranian government who wanted to derail talks over the nuclear deal. It was only in the final hours of his incarceration that Rezaian said he was transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence, a body more closely allied with President Hassan Rouhani.
Rezaian’s departure from Iran was “touch-and-go until the last minute,” he said. The plane was delayed for hours, and U.S. officials were privately concerned that the prisoner deal had gone bad. Those hours, Rezaian said, were “hugely stressful.”
“I was not handed over to the Swiss until I was actually on the plane,” he said. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.
When the plane finally took off, the passengers — including Rezaian, the other released Iranian Americans, and Rezaian’s wife and mother — burst into applause. When they left Iranian airspace, they applauded again.
Later on Monday, Rezaian was permitted to leave the hospital for several hours to meet at a nearby guesthouse with his brother, Ali Rezaian, along with his wife, mother and his visiting congressman, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
“I want to thank my family, especially the efforts of my brother, Ali, and my wife in Iran and my mother everywhere she was,” Rezaian said. “They have been incredible. I also want to thank everybody at The Post and my colleagues in other media as well, as well as everybody in the U.S. government who played an important role in my release.’’
Once the Americans had left Iran, the Obama administration announced new sanctions related to participation in Iran’s ballistic missile program. The sanctions, which applied to 11 people and companies, were issued under U.S. restrictions that remain in place despite the lifting Saturday of international sanctions linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
The Treasury Department said the new sanctions apply to, among others, the Mabrooka Trading Co., based in the United Arab Emirates, and its networks there and in China. It said they have used front companies to deceive foreign suppliers about the true end-users of “sensitive goods for missile proliferation.”
The Iranian government and military said Monday that the new sanctions show continued U.S. hostility toward Iran and vowed defiantly to further develop the missile program.
Iran’s defense minister, Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, accused Washington of demonstrating “hatred toward the Iranian nation” with “useless attempts to weaken Iran’s defense power.” He said Iran’s missile industries “are fully homemade” and impervious to sanctions, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.
Dehghan said Iran would expand its program by “unveiling new missile achievements soon.”
In a statement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said that “Iran’s missile program has not been designed for carrying nuclear weapons at all, and therefore it doesn’t violate any international rule.”
Separately, Rouhani, the president, pledged to the visiting chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency that Iran would “never” pursue nuclear weapons, even without the intensified safeguards imposed by the newly implemented nuclear deal.
“We will be committed to the fact that our nuclear program is peaceful and will never deviate to weapons,” he told Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in a meeting in Tehran, the Mehr News Agency reported.
In Landstuhl, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), who arrived Monday as part of a welcoming delegation for Abedini, said he joined in campaigning for Abedini’s freedom after hearing his wife, Naghmeh, speak at a church in Charlotte about the case. Naghmeh is expected to arrive Tuesday, he said.
Pittenger said by telephone from the hospital grounds that he had not seen Abedini but that he had been briefed that all the freed hostages were, “generally speaking, in pretty good condition.”
“Physically, at least,” he added.
Pittenger said doctors would test for communicable diseases to see whether any of the patients needed to be isolated, followed by “longer-term evaluations and analyses with the doctors and psychiatrists.”
“Particularly with Saeed, it was 3
There are no estimates on when the men may be discharged from the hospital.
“I’m told that when people come here, they spend from five to 10 days,” Pittenger said. “It can be shorter, but having been in isolation and mental torture for 3
In a telephone call with The Post’s editors before they were able to meet Monday, Rezaian said that isolation was the most difficult part of his time in prison. Still, snippets of information had reached him, among them that his Christmas greetings from prison, conveyed via his mother, had “made the rounds and reached everybody, which is what I intended.”
He also said that he found escape in the novels he was allowed to read while in prison facing trial on a charge of spying.
Rezaian’s health was reported to have suffered because of poor conditions at the prison and a lack of medicine for his high blood pressure.
Family members said last year that he had lost weight and suffered from back pain and chronic infections.
He told the editors that his health had improved in the past several months.
Evin Prison, where Rezaian was held, has been used for decades by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary government and the monarchy it overthrew in 1979 to incarcerate — and, human rights groups say, abuse — political prisoners. Rezaian was tried in secret there last year and was sentenced to an unspecified prison term.
Branigin reported from Washington.