The New York Times reported Monday that Michael R. White’s mother learned three weeks ago that her son is alive and being held at an Iranian prison. His arrest was first reported by an online news service by Iranian ex-patriots who interviewed a former Iranian prisoner who said he met White at Vakilabad Prison in the city of Mashhad in October.
His mother, Joanne White, told the newspaper the 46-year-old veteran went to Iran to see his girlfriend and had booked a July 27 flight back home to San Diego via the United Arab Emirates. She filed a missing person report with the State Department after he did not board the flight. She added that he had been undergoing treatment for a neck tumor and has asthma.
The State Department confirmed an American was detained but did not provide details.
It’s unclear what prompted Iranian authorities to detain White, though Iran in the past has used prisoners with Western ties as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Iran’s United Nations mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Joanne White told the newspaper she does not know whether any charges have been filed against him or why he was detained. She said her son had visited Iran “five or six times” to see his girlfriend. It’s unclear how they met.
The State Department told his mother they had put in a request for a consular visit by the Swiss embassy, which represents the interests of the United States in Iran since diplomatic relations were severed nearly 40 years ago after the hostage crisis.
At least three other U.S. citizens have been incarcerated in Iran for years. Two of them are Iranian-Americans.
The detention comes amid growing tensions between the Trump administration and Iran since the United States pulled out of the nuclear accord with Iran last May and re-imposed sanctions. The last time Iran released U.S. citizens from its prisons was when the nuclear agreement took effect in January 2016.