Iran has released five American prisoners as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States, taking them to Tehran airport on a flight to the Qatari capital Doha. Four of the five were placed under house arrest last month as part of the deal.
A fifth prisoner was previously under house arrest. Monday’s progress indicated that the prisoners had gone through the exchange in the past month. The deal also includes the release of frozen Iranian funds.
A deal between the United States and Iran led to the release of five prisoners from both sides and the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian assets from South Korea. The agreement, announced on August 10, will resolve a significant source of tension between Washington and Tehran, although they still have significant disagreements on various other issues.
The five Iranians released as part of the exchange agreement have received mercy from US President Joe Biden. According to a US official, Biden would also put new penalties on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, and the intelligence ministry.
Iran and the United States have a long history of prisoner exchanges, dating back to the 1979 US embassy seizure and the hostage crisis following the Iranian revolution. There are no signs that the prisoner swap will lead to progress in restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Tehran scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. In 2018, the United States left the pact.
As part of the deal, the US is freeing five Iranian prisoners. Persons exempted include:
- Kaveh Afrasiabi, a political scientist and US resident who faces charges of acting as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government.
- Mehrdad Moin Ansari, a 40-year-old Iranian resident of the United Arab Emirates and Germany was convicted of violating sanctions against Iran.
- Amin Hassanzadeh, a US permanent resident accused four years ago of stealing secrets intended to send them to Iran.
- Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, a 46-year-old Canadian citizen, was charged with illegally exporting laboratory equipment to Iran.
- Kambiz Attar Kashani, 44, a dual citizen convicted of conspiracy to illegally export technology and goods to Iran.
The Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed that only two of these Iranian prisoners will return to Iran. He said, “One of them, having family in another country, will move to that third country to join them. Additionally, two of our citizens imprisoned in the United States have expressed their desire to stay there, citing their long history of residence.”
Three known American prisoners held in Iran, all arrested on charges of espionage and cooperation with foreign governments:
- Siamak Namazi, a 51-year-old businessman who has been in Evin prison since 2015, making him the longest-serving American prisoner in Iran.
- Emad Sharghi, a 59-year-old businessman was arrested in 2018
- Morad Tahbaz, arrested in 2018, is a 67-year-old environmentalist with British citizenship.
The identities of the remaining two American detainees have been withheld, although Western media reports say one of them is a woman.
Iran’s frozen funds
The release of almost $6 billion in Iranian funds is part of the accord, which was struck last month with Qatari mediation. As part of US sanctions put in place in 2018 when Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, the cash was frozen for years in South Korea. Prior to being delivered to the accounts of six Iranian banks in Qatar to be used for the purchase of non-sanctioned products, the funds were first converted to euros and transmitted to Switzerland.
After Iran confirms access to its funds and the release of the Iranian inmates, the exchange is anticipated to be finished before Monday night, according to Nasser Kanani, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Six Iranian banks’ Qatari accounts receive money
According to Reza Farzin, the head of Iran’s Central Bank, the banks that received the $6 billion in their Qatari bank accounts include Keshavarzi, Shahr, Pasargad, Gardeshgari, Karafarin, and Saman. The procedure was carried out by the Ahlibank and Dukhan Bank in Qatar’s foreign agents using the SWIFT system.
As a result of sanction waivers provided by Washington earlier in September, the system appears to have been usable.
US conservatives dissatisfied with the agreement
Many Conservatives on Capitol Hill and in the American public, according to Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, who is reporting from Washington, DC, fear that this may not be the best agreement for the US.
They believe that the US may be making too many concessions, which may be motivating more American citizens to be detained.
This could potentially boost Iranian economic dominance and put American forces in danger in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
However, the Biden administration is extremely protective and keeps reversing course, claiming that the only other option would be for these Americans to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
In the recent Iran-US prisoner swap, the release of five American prisoners and five Iranians marks a significant step towards reducing bilateral tensions. This exchange, brokered with Qatari mediation, also includes the transfer of nearly $6 billion in Iranian assets from South Korea, thawing frozen funds long-held due to sanctions. While the move signals goodwill between the two nations, it doesn’t guarantee progress on other contentious issues, such as the Iran nuclear deal. Critics express concerns about the perceived concessions made by the US, fearing it may embolden Iran, but the Biden administration sees this as a necessary step to bring American citizens home.