Five Americans who were exchanged for five Iranian prisoners arrived in the United States in the early hours of September 19, a US official told CNN. They were released in exchange for $6 billion in Iranian assets that had been frozen earlier. The five American citizens first flew to Doha, Qatar, where they were received by the American ambassador in this country and left for the USA. “Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran have finally returned home,” said US President Joe Biden. Biden’s statement was issued by the White House at the time the Americans landed in Qatar.
Biden thanked the leaders of Qatar and Oman “for helping facilitate the deal” for their release, negotiations that took months. In New York the day before, Iran’s hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, called the prisoner swap deal “a step towards a humanitarian action between us and America” that “can definitely help us to we build trust” between the two countries. The agreement was reached after several months, and the pact has drawn criticism from some hard-liners in the US, who believe the deal will help the Iranian regime, which is under US sanctions.
“I wouldn’t be free today if it wasn’t for all of you who didn’t let the world forget me,” said one of the freed American citizens, identified as Siamak Namazi. The Qatar plane left Tehran with the five Americans and two of their family members on board, news agencies reported, hours after the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on September 18 that the prisoner exchange would happen very soon. About 6 billion Iranian assets were frozen in South Korea. They are now in Qatar. The release of these funds was a key element that enabled the exchange of prisoners, said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani.
According to the agreement, the funds will be held in accounts in Qatar – the US ally in the Arabian Peninsula, where the US military is present. Those funds will be allowed to be used for humanitarian expenses, such as food and medicine, the US said. Iranian officials have made public the identities of their nationals who were being held in the US. It includes three Iranians – Mehrdad Ansari, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, and Kambiz Attar Kashani – accused of illegally taking possession of high technology, which is believed to be sent to Iran. Iran’s technology sector has been under US sanctions since 2018. Two others – Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi and Amin Hasanzadeh – were arrested for failing to register as foreign agents and on suspicion of stealing engineering plans, in name of Iran.
Among the released Americans is Namazi, arrested in 2015. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges. Emad Sharghi, a businessman sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, have also been released. The identity of the other two released has not been made public. Amid the ongoing wave of unrest, Iranian security forces have arrested around 40 foreign nationals, often without disclosing any specific charges.
Since then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from a three-year deal between global powers and Iran aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing precautions designed to prevent the country from advancing its nuclear capabilities , Iran has been increasingly isolated and subjected to tighter economic and diplomatic sanctions.
In addition to the diplomatic and economic fallout, analysts have linked a series of ship seizures and attacks in the vital Strait of Hormuz area to Tehran. The Pentagon is said to be considering a strategy to station US troops on merchant ships in the region, which serves as a transit for roughly 20 percent of the world’s total oil shipments. Tehran has also cooperated with Russia in the Middle East, in addition to supplying Moscow with important attack drones to advance the Kremlin’s war plans in Ukraine.
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