The family of Michael R. White, a Navy veteran imprisoned in Iran half a year ago, said Friday that he had traveled there with a valid visa to visit a female friend, rejecting any suggestion that he might have been engaged in espionage.
“We want to be very clear — Michael spent much of his time in the Navy as a cook and recently worked as a commercial janitor — he is not now, nor has he ever been a spy,” the family said in a statement.
Mr. White, 46, also had been undergoing treatment for cancer and other “serious medical conditions that could be life-threatening without regular, specialized medical care,” the statement said.
Mr. White, a 13-year Navy veteran from Imperial Beach, Calif., is the first American known to be imprisoned by Iran since President Trump took office nearly two years ago. Why Iran has taken him into custody is unclear.
Word of his arrest did not emerge until Monday, and Joanne White, Mr. White’s mother, confirmed it in a telephone interview with The New York Times.
He joins at least three other Americans in Iranian custody, injecting a new irritant into what already is a confrontational relationship between Iran and President Trump.
The others — Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi and Xiyue Wang — have been accused of spying and sedition-related activities, which they have all denied. A fourth American, Robert A. Levinson, has been missing in Iran since 2007.
“Michael traveled to Iran with a valid Iranian visa to visit a woman with whom he had fallen in love — his visits were solely for that purpose,” the family’s statement said.
“Joanne White wants her son back, and she’s gravely concerned that he will succumb to his medical issues in prison,” it said. “Michael has no part in the ongoing geopolitical dispute between the United States and Iran.”
Where the Iranians have incarcerated Mr. White has not been disclosed. The identity and fate of his female friend, as well as details on how they met, also remain unclear.
Bahram Ghasemi, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, acknowledged on Wednesday that Mr. White was a prisoner and that American officials had been made aware of the arrest. Mr. Ghasemi offered no further information.
State Department officials have declined to comment on Mr. White’s case. But the department issued a statement after word of his arrest spread that “we have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad.”
Orignially published in NYT.