In a significant development, the White House announced on Monday that five Americans who had been detained in Iran were finally released. The release came as part of a prisoner swap agreement, which also involved the Biden administration granting clemency to five Iranians and transferring $6 billion in a restricted Iranian account.
According to a senior administration official, the five American citizens, who had been wrongfully imprisoned, along with two family members who were banned from traveling, boarded a Qatari plane bound for Doha early Monday. From there, they will proceed to Washington to reunite with their families.
The released American citizens include Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and two individuals who have chosen to remain anonymous. Additionally, the mother of Namazi and the wife of Tahbaz, both of whom had been unable to leave Iran, will also be on the plane.
As part of the exchange, five Iranians convicted of nonviolent crimes will be freed. Two of these Iranians, who do not have legal status in the U.S., will return to Doha. The prisoners being released are Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Ansari, Amin Hasanzadeh, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, and Kambiz Attar Kashani.
In addition to the prisoner swap, the United States is also taking steps to transfer $6 billion of Iranian funds frozen in South Korea to a Qatari bank. However, these funds will only be available for limited use, specifically for humanitarian transactions such as the purchase of food, medicine, and agricultural products.
An official clarified that these funds are Iranian payments made by South Korea for oil purchases made years ago, including during the previous administration. The official emphasized that the funds will only be permitted for transactions involving vetted third-party non-Iranian vendors and strictly for humanitarian goods. If Iran attempts to divert or misuse the funds, the U.S. will take action to lock them up.
Despite the positive outcome of the prisoner swap, the Biden administration has faced criticism, particularly from Republicans expressing deep concern about potential threats to national security arising from the agreement. However, an official defended the negotiation process, stating that it had been ongoing for years and that some offers made during the negotiations were flat out rejected by the Biden administration.
Furthermore, the administration plans to issue a new set of sanctions against actors in Iran. Specifically, sanctions will be imposed on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) for its role in holding and interrogating prisoners, as well as for its history of human rights abuses. Additionally, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sanctioned for persistently spreading lies about the whereabouts of Bob Levinson, an American who disappeared in Iran during a CIA mission in 2007 and is presumed to have been murdered.
An official emphasized that the Biden administration remains committed to seeking more information on Levinson’s case and urged Iran to provide details about what happened to him. Meanwhile, ahead of the White House’s announcement, Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed that a prisoner swap with the U.S. would take place. Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, stated during a news conference broadcast on state television that the $6 billion in unfrozen Iranian assets, a key condition for the prisoner swap, had been successfully transferred from South Korea to Qatar.
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