US Navy veteran Michael White is in Iranian custody, the Islamic Republic’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, confirming claims made by White’s mother a day earlier.
“Michael White was arrested in the city of Mashhad a while ago, and within a few days after his arrest the US government was informed of the arrest through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran,” ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.
In the absence of relations, the Swiss Embassy represents US diplomatic interests in Iran. The holy city of Mashhad is in northeastern Iran, 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) from its border with Turkmenistan.
Ghasemi denied allegations that White, who hails from Imperial Beach, California, has been mistreated in prison.
“This person’s case is currently being processed by officials. The public will be informed of more details of the case in due time,” he said.
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, his mother, Joanne White, declined to discuss why her son was being held. She said she filed a missing person report after he failed to return to work in California in late July.
She is worried about her 46-year-old son’s health because he has had cancer and suffers from asthma, she said.
“My heart aches for him. … I just want to see him home safe and sound,” Joanne White said by phone.
Visiting his girlfriend?
News about the American’s detention comes amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran. Those strains have increased since May when the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions against the country.
A US State Department representative said the department was “aware of reports of the detention of a US citizen in Iran,” and that it has “no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens abroad.”
“Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional information to provide at this time,” the representative said.
Michael White flew from Los Angeles to Dubai on July 9, and then on to Iran, his mother said.
He was visiting a woman whom he said was his girlfriend, she said. He met her online about four or five years ago, and he had visited her four times over the last few years, Joanne White said.
Michael White’s wife, Lupe White, said she last saw her husband July 9, and he texted her a day later saying he was on a business trip for two weeks. Lupe White said he has had an online relationship with a woman in Iran for six years and would go see her for two weeks at a time.
She and her husband, who have been married for almost 15 years, have discussed divorce, she said, but she was hoping they had strengthened their relationship in the past six months as she helped him through chemotherapy.
“I still love him. He is my partner. He is still my husband,” she said.
She said the State Department had not contacted her and she was unaware he was in prison until reached by CNN. White said she talked to police at her home. She called them when her husband did not return home, she said.