WASHINGTON -- When Matthew Trevithick was arrested last December, American and Iranian diplomats were nearing a consensus on a prisoner agreement that would ultimately free four Americans from Iranian prison in exchange for the U.S. releasing or dropping charges against seven Iranians in the U.S.
Adding Trevithick to the secret prisoner swap negotiations, which began in November 2014 but gained steam after the July 14 nuclear agreement, threatened to further prolong and complicate a final deal. Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Sunday morning, Trevithick’s release was dealt “on a separate, different track, direct with me and [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif.”
By Kerry’s telling, Iranian officials released Trevithick as a humanitarian gesture, independently of any agreement or promise of something in return. Trevithick was freed on Saturday, after spending 40 days in Iran's Evin prison. Instead of joining the four other released Americans on a Swiss plane to Geneva, Trevithick took a commercial flight to Boston's Logan Airport Sunday, where his family was waiting.
Thirty-year-old Trevithick had long wanted to go to Iran to study Farsi. His stepfather told the New York Times that he applied for a visa to Iran for three years, but was only granted admission after last year’s nuclear agreement. A self-described “writer, author, researcher,” Trevithick is fluent in Dari, speaks some Russian and Arabic and had traveled across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.
After graduating from Boston University in 2008, Trevithick spent two years in Iraq working at the American University there. He then relocated to Afghanistan, where he was the director of communications for the American University in Kabul. While in Afghanistan, Trevithick and his colleague Daniel Seckman traveled to the notoriously violent Korengal Valley. In November 2014, the Daily Beast published their 8,500 word account of how the area was affected by the American troop withdrawal.
That year, Trevithick moved to Turkey, where his and Seckman’s SREO Research firm was based. A Men’s Journal article credited SREO with being “one of the only outfits able to get on-the-ground info out of [Syria]” during the civil war.
He traveled to Iran last September, intending to take an intensive four-month program studying Farsi before returning to Turkey. It is still unclear why he was detained in December -- and why Iranian officials agreed to release him unilaterally six weeks later. But it offers some hope that American and Iranian diplomats could strike a similar agreement on Siamak Namazi -- another American citizen who remains stuck in Iranian prison.
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