Iran, U.S. make prisoner swap, 5 U.S. citizens released

President Joe Biden. File photo: Chris Kleponis/UPI

Sept. 18 (UPI) — Iran has released five U.S. citizens from custody on Monday after the United States agreed to release $6 billion in frozen assets.

The five Americans boarded a plane to Qatar Monday morning, President Joe Biden confirmed in a statement. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the frozen funds “will be delivered” on Monday, cementing the swap which will see each side release five prisoners.

The five Americans include Siamak Namazi, a 51-year-old Iranian-American oil executive first detained in 2015; Emad Shargi a 58-year-old U.S. businessman detained in 2018 and released briefly in 2019, only to be arrested again in 2020 and 67-year-old Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American conservationist with British citizenship, and has been in custody since 2018.

Tahbaz’s wife, Vida, and Namazi’s mother, Effie, are also on board the plane to Qatar.

Namazi staged a hunger strike in January in a plea to the Biden administration to procure his release. His 85-year-old father Baquer Namazi had been detained prior to his arrest. Baquer Namazi was released in October so he could pursue potentially life-saving medical treatment.

The other two Americans set to be released requested that their identities not be shared.

“As we celebrate the return of these Americans, we also remember those who did not return,” Biden said. “I call on the Iranian regime to give a full account of what happened to Bob Levinson. The Levinson family deserves answers.”

The president added that the United States is sanctioning former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence under the Levinson Act for their involvement in wrongful detentions.

Levinson was a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007. The Levinson Act was signed into law in 2020. It codifies the guidelines for the Secretary of State to make determinations on hostage and wrongful detention cases.

The five Iranians identified as Mahrdad Moein Ansari, Kambiz Attar Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour Kofrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Loftollah Afrasiabi had been detained over sanctions violations, according to state-run Press TV.

Kanaani said two of the detained Iranians would return to Iran, while one would travel to a third country to reunite with his family and the other two would remain in the United States

After arriving in Qatar, the five Americans are expected to be transferred to flights back to Washington.

The deal comes with the United States unfreezing $6 billion of Iranian oil revenue for humanitarian causes, which will be overseen by Qatar. Those uses include purchases for food, agricultural goods and medicine.

Critics of the deal have said the United States doesn’t have the ability to police such requests and transfers, allowing Iran to abuse the details of the agreement.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said last week that the frozen Iranian funds will be transferred from banks in South Korea to accounts controlled by Qatar, where Iran will have access to them.

National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby insisted that there will be adequate oversight of the funds and rejected charges that the deal amounts to a blank check for Iran.

“It’s Iranian money that had been established in these accounts to allow some trade from foreign countries on things like Iranian oil,” Kirby said. “They don’t get to spend it any way they want. It’s not $6 billion all at once. They will have to make a request for withdrawals for humanitarian purposes only.”


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