Donald Trump Calls on Iran to 'Make the Big Deal' Before 2020 Election as Michael White Returns Home

President Donald Trump has called on Iran to make "the big deal" ahead of the presidential election in November, following Tehran's release of Navy veteran Michael White. White had been held by Iranian authorities since 2018.

White flew to the U.S. via Switzerland on Thursday. His release came after an Iranian scientist and Iranian doctor were sent back to Iran, in what appears to be a rare agreement between Washington and Tehran. The Trump administration has so far denied that White was returned as part of a swap.

The Trump campaign quickly lauded White's return, tweeting a video of White thanking the president for his help in securing his freedom. White, 48, was arrested by Iranian authorities when traveling to the city of Mashhad in 2018 to visit his girlfriend. He was one of at least six Americans being held in Iran, either in jail or on bail.

Trump lauded White's release on Twitter, writing: "So great to have Michael home. Just arrived. Very exciting."

Relations between the U.S. and Iran have effectively collapsed during Trump's time in office. The president withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, seeking to undermine the regime and force it into a new, harsher nuclear deal.

Tensions have risen across the Middle East where Iran directs a range of proxy forces against American and allied interests, prompting multiple limited military exchanges with the U.S. and the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani—a powerful figure within the regime who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' clandestine Quds Force, and masterminded Tehran's military strategy abroad.

Despite the animosity, Trump thanked the regime after White's release and suggested the two sides could build on the deal, presumably to achieve a nuclear breakthrough. "Thank you to Iran," the president said. "Don't wait until after U.S. Election to make the Big deal. I'm going to win. You'll make a better deal now!"

Trump had long criticized the JCPOA, promising to tear up the Obama-era deal while on the presidential campaign trail. The agreement introduced curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions. International monitors confirmed that Iran was in compliance with the deal when Trump decided to ditch the agreement in 2018.

Critics of the JCPOA have argued that the deal was too lenient on Tehran and did not curb the regime's ballistic missile program or its regional influence, which has seen Iran establish and invest in proxy militias and allied forces across the Middle East. This has given Tehran huge influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian territories.

The Iranian regime has consistently dismissed any proposed renegotiation of the JCPOA, to which European nations, Russia, and China remain signatories. Meanwhile, Tehran has ended its JCPOA compliance piecemeal. After Soleimani was killed, Iran said it would no longer honor any element of the deal.

Iran will be hoping that the American "maximum pressure" strategy against it may soften after November, especially if former Vice President Joe Biden defeats Trump. Biden is currently leading the president in national polls—which Trump has dismissed—and has signaled willingness to re-open dialog with Tehran.

Donald Trump, Iran, nuclear deal, JCPOA, 2020
President Donald Trump delivers remarks in front of the media in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty