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U.S. Welcomes Iran's Release Of Lebanese National, Eyes U.S. Detainees

Nizar Zakka,a Lebanese citizen and permanent U.S. resident, was released in Tehran after nearly four years in prison.

The United States has welcomed Iran's decision to free a Lebanese national imprisoned on charges of spying for Washington, saying it hoped it would lead to the release of other Americans being held by Tehran.

The State Department on June 11 said Washington was "very pleased" by the release of Nizar Zakka and it praised Lebanon's role in ending his "unlawful imprisonment."

"We hope that Mr. Zakka's release is a positive sign for American detainees in Iran," a State Department spokesman said.

U.S. officials have demanded the release of several Iranian-American dual citizens being held on various charges in Iran. Tehran does not recognize dual citizenship.

Zakka arrived in Beirut on June 11 after his release from prison.

A Washington, D.C., resident and a U.S. Green Card holder, Zakka was head of an Arab IT organization that advocated for Internet development in the Middle East.

In 2016, the 52-year-old was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $4.2 million fine after a court convicted him of espionage -- a charge he denied.

A spokesman for Iran's judiciary earlier said an Iranian court had agreed on Zakka's "conditional release," adding that he would be handed over to Lebanese authorities.

The spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, did not give details of the conditions of Zakka's release.

Lebanon's president and foreign minister had urged Iran to grant an amnesty to Zakka, and Iranian media reported on June 10 that he was to be released "only because of the respect and dignity" Iran has for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizballah movement.

Relations between Tehran and Washington have plummeted since the United States a year ago pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran.

Since then, Washington has reimposed sanctions, stepped up its rhetoric, and beefed up its military presence in the Middle East, raising fears of a possible armed conflict.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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