Ten Americans and Iranians released in US-Iran prisoner swap

Five Americans who were prisoners in Iran, along with two female family members, left the country Monday (September 18) as part of a politically risky prisoner swap for Joe Biden, a senior White House official confirmed

Ten Americans and Iranians released in US-Iran prisoner swap

Five Americans who were prisoners in Iran, along with two female family members, left the country Monday (September 18) as part of a politically risky prisoner swap for Joe Biden, a senior White House official confirmed. They are Siamak Namazi, who is accompanied by his mother, Emad Sharqi, Morad Tahbaz, who is leaving Iran with his wife, as well as two other people whose names have not been disclosed .

All are of Iranian ancestry, Iran not recognizing dual nationality and not maintaining any diplomatic relations with the United States since 1979. In exchange, five Iranian nationals, prosecuted or convicted in the United States for non-violent offenses , will benefit from leniency measures, said the senior official, who requested anonymity. He added that this prisoner exchange would be accompanied by sanctions against the Iranian intelligence ministry, as well as against former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - a way for the White House to counter any accusations of appeasement towards the regime in Tehran.

This release seemed imminent since the transfer of the five Americans to house arrest a little over a month ago. It is the result of several years of negotiations between Washington and Tehran. Beforehand, a transfer of Iranian funds frozen in South Korea, amounting to six billion dollars (5.5 billion euros), was announced in Doha and confirmed by Iran. This transfer is part of the agreement.

Two Iranians arrived in Doha

Two of the five Iranian prisoners benefiting from a clemency measure have arrived in Doha to return to Iran, Iranian media said on Monday. “Two Iranian prisoners, Mehrdad Moin-Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour, released during the exchange of Iranian and American prisoners and planning to go to Iran, arrived in Doha,” Tasnim news agency said. The other three were also released, according to the agency, but do not wish to go to Iran.

The transfer of funds to 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 account of Iranian banks with two Qatari banks,” said Mohammad Reza Farzin, governor of the Iranian Central Bank, in Tehran. He added that his country intended to take legal action against South Korea for not allowing Tehran to access these funds and seek damages following their depreciation.

The arrangement was announced on August 10 and five Americans of Iranian origin, detained in Iran, were then transferred from their prison 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. 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.

Not a “blank check”

In the eyes of certain experts, this agreement demonstrates an easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, but it does not prejudge a possible agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. 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. Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi is expected in New York on Monday to participate in the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN).

On September 13, the White House rejected any notion of “ransom”, as denounced by the Republican opposition to President Joe Biden, with the release of six billion dollars in frozen Iranian funds. The prisoner swap was a “difficult decision” for the president. “The alternative was that these Americans would never come home,” the senior official justified. National Security Council spokesman 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 differently and not only to buy medicine and food. After this payment, Iran will “no longer have many resources blocked in other countries,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani on Monday. “In Japan we had a certain quantity but we used a large part of it and the remaining quantity is not significant,” according to him.