Prisoner exchange: five ex-detainees in Iran on their way to the United States

The five former American detainees in Iran released under a prisoner exchange agreement with Washington, with the mediation of Qatar, are now on their way to the United States

Prisoner exchange: five ex-detainees in Iran on their way to the United States

The five former American detainees in Iran released under a prisoner exchange agreement with Washington, with the mediation of Qatar, are now on their way to the United States.

The ex-prisoners and two members of their family had left Iran to land on the tarmac of Doha international airport around 2:40 p.m. GMT (5:40 p.m. local time) before leaving "for Washington DC", the AFP a source close to the matter.

In Washington, the White House confirmed that the ex-prisoners and members of their family had indeed left Doha by plane to return to American soil.

In New York, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken said he spoke with the freed Americans after their arrival in Doha, where they were welcomed on the tarmac with hugs, recalling a “moving” conversation.

“I spoke to them when they landed in Doha. I can tell you that it was for them, for me, a moving conversation,” he said, adding that “it feels really good to be able to say that our fellow citizens are now free.

Beforehand, a transfer of Iranian funds frozen in South Korea, amounting to six billion dollars, was announced in Doha and confirmed by Iran.

This transfer is part of the agreement, which also provides for the release by the United States of five Iranian prisoners. Two of them, benefiting from a measure of clemency, also arrived in Doha on Monday, to return to Iran, Iranian media reported on Monday.

The three other released ex-prisoners do not wish to go to Iran.

The transfer of funds into six Iranian accounts in two Qatari banks was carried out on Monday.

“Today, the equivalent of 5,573,492,000 euros was deposited into the accounts of Iranian banks with two Qatari banks,” Mohammadreza Farzin, governor of the Iranian Central Bank, said in Tehran.

This arrangement was announced on August 10 and five Americans of Iranian origin, detained in Iran, were then transferred from their prison in August to be placed under house arrest.

Among them is businessman Siamak Namazi, arrested in 2015 and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2016 for espionage. “Thank you President (Joe) Biden for putting human life before politics,” he said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also welcomed the release of the prisoners, one of whom, Morad Tahbaz, also has British nationality.

Iran “must stop using foreign nationals as bargaining chips,” Mr. Sunak’s services said in a statement.

Among the five Iranians to be released by the United States are Reza Sarhangpour and Kambiz Attar Kashani, accused of having "diverted American sanctions" against Iran.

In the eyes of certain experts, this agreement demonstrates a relative easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, but it does not prejudge a possible agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue.

The spokesperson for the UN Secretary General hoped on Monday that it would lead to "greater cooperation and a reduction in tensions" between the two countries which no longer maintain diplomatic relations.

But while welcoming the agreement, Washington wanted to temper expectations.

“This process, the commitments that were necessary to free these Americans unjustifiably detained, have always been separated from our commitments, or their absence, with Iran” on nuclear power, affirmed Mr. Blinken, not leaving foresee new discussions, even indirect ones, in the near future.

Negotiations led by the Europeans had failed in 2022 to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, moribund since the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump.

The prisoner exchange comes on the same day that Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi is expected in New York to participate in the UN General Assembly.

Coincidence or coincidence, the Biden administration, criticized by the Republican opposition which describes the exchange as a "ransom", announced sanctions on Monday against the Iranian intelligence ministry and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the American president promised Monday to "continue to sanction Iran for its provocative actions in the region."

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby insisted that this was not a "blank check" offered to Iran and that the use of these funds "for purposes humanitarian purposes" only would be under "strict surveillance". From the sale of hydrocarbons by Iran, these funds were blocked following American sanctions.

Tehran, for its part, assured that it had the possibility of using this envelope in other ways and not just to buy medicine and food.

After this payment, Iran will no longer have "many resources blocked in other countries", said Iranian diplomatic spokesperson Nasser Kanani on Monday.

18/09/2023 20:22:48 -         Doha (AFP) -         © 2023 AFP

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