Iran prisoner swap: US citizens released in $6 billion deal | Brasarr

Iran prisoner swap: US citizens released in $6 billion deal
  • By Lyse Doucet
  • International chief correspondent
video caption,

Watch: Currently, five Americans freed from Iran are changing planes in Qatar

Five Americans, imprisoned for years in Iran and widely considered hostages, are on their way home to the United States.

The final pieces of a controversial swap brokered by Qatar fell into place as the $6 billion

It triggered the departure of the four men and one woman in Tehran, who are also Iranian nationals, on a chartered flight to the Qatari capital.

They were met by senior US officials and are now on their way to Washington.

The Americans include 51-year-old businessman Siamak Namazi, who has spent almost eight years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, as well as businessman Emad Shargi, 59, and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who is also a British national.

The United States has said its citizens were jailed on baseless charges of political influence.

In the first indication of an agreement, they were moved in mid-August from Evin to a safe house in Tehran.

Five Iranians imprisoned in US prisons, mainly on charges of violating US sanctions, are also being pardoned as part of this swap. Not all of them are expected to return to Iran.

They have been named by Iran as Reza Sarhangpour, Kambiz Attar Kashani, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Moein Ansari and Amin Hasanzadeh.

“Today, five innocent Americans imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” US President Joe Biden said after their plane landed in Doha.

He said all five had endured “years of pain, uncertainty and suffering.”

Sir. Biden also announced new US sanctions targeting former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry for what he said was their involvement in illegal detentions.

Siamak Namazi said in a statement: “I wouldn’t be free today if it wasn’t for all of you who didn’t allow the world to forget me.

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for being my voice when I couldn’t speak for myself and for making sure I was heard when I gathered the strength to scream from behind the impenetrable walls of Evin Prison.”

He also praised President Biden for making “some incredibly difficult decisions to save us” and “ultimately putting the lives of American citizens above politics.”

image source, anyhopefornature/FreetheNamazis/NedaSharghi


US said Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi were jailed on baseless charges

The agreement comes after months of indirect talks brokered by Qatar, which began last February.

One source said there were at least nine rounds of discussions in Doha. Senior Qatari officials also shuttled between Tehran and Washington.

“I think there is a bit of a win for both sides,” Iranian-born professor Mehran Kamrava, who now teaches at Georgetown University in Qatar, told the BBC.

“For Biden, going into the election, he’s bringing Americans home, and for Iran, there’s the release of Iranians in prison in the United States, but it’s the six billion dollars that’s a big win.”

Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that they will spend their money as they wish. But sources involved in this process insist that these funds will be strictly controlled.

“No funds will go to Iran,” they stressed. “Humanitarian transactions only, including food, medicine, agriculture, paid to third-party vendors, transaction by transaction.”

Sources told the BBC that this money was not part of Iranian assets frozen by sanctions. The money in South Korea, revenue from Iranian oil sales, had been available to Tehran for bilateral and non-sanctioned aid, but was not used for various reasons, including currency conversion difficulties.

Leading US Republicans have denounced the deal as a ransom and sanctions. The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, criticized the US government for transferring funds to “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism”.

Who are the American prisoners?

  • Morad Tahbaz: Arrested in 2018 along with eight other Iranian conservationists. They had used cameras to track critically endangered wild Asiatic cheetahs, but were accused of spying. Denied the charge but sentenced to 10 years in prison
  • Siamak Namazi: Dubai-based oil executive arrested in 2015. His elderly father, Baquer, was detained the following year after Iranian officials allowed him to visit his son. Both sentenced to 10 years in prison for “collaborating with a foreign enemy”, which they denied. Iran allowed Baquer to go for medical treatment in 2022
  • Emad Shargi: Imprisoned in 2018 while working for an Iranian venture capital fund. Released on bail and later told he had been acquitted of espionage charges. Stated by a court in 2020 that he had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Released pending an appeal and allegedly detained in 2021 while attempting to illegally cross Iran’s western border
  • The other two wish to remain anonymous

The enormous relief that some prisoners are finally coming home is tempered by the knowledge that more may be seized in the future. There are still other dual nationals behind bars in Tehran.

“The Iranian government has become a hostage-taking government,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. “They have used people as pawns and that is part of their leverage against the West.”

Qatar hopes this rare cooperation will help catalyze progress in other long-running disputes. This includes the 2015 nuclear deal, which many consider dead due to the decision by then US President Donald Trump to withdraw five years ago.


Four of the five Americans were moved from Tehran’s Evin prison to house arrest in August

He said Iran will continue to maintain strategic enmity with the United States as long as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains in power.

President Biden has long been called upon to bring Americans home.

Earlier this year, Siamak Namazi wrote to him from an Iranian prison. Sir. Namazi, who the US said was unjustly detained, described himself as holding “the unenviable title of the longest-held Iranian-American hostage in history”.

Morad Tahbaz and his family also felt angry and abandoned after receiving assurances from the British government that he would return to the UK last year, along with two other British-Iranians who were arbitrarily detained, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.

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