- Qatar brokered the swap deal during months of negotiations
- The Qatari plane was carrying five American citizens and two of their relatives
- Five Iranians will be released into the United States, and three will not return to Iran
- The deal included the transfer of 6 billion Iranian dollars to Qatar from South Korea
DOHA (Reuters) – Five American citizens left Iran and arrived in Doha on Monday as part of a prisoner exchange with five Iranians detained in the United States and the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds in a rare moment of cooperation between the two countries. Enemies of time.
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran returned to their homeland,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement, shortly before the American detainees descended on the stairs of a Qatari plane to be embraced by American diplomats.
Separately, Iran’s Press TV channel said that the five Iranians arrested by the United States and accused of crimes have been released, in a clear indication that they have been granted amnesty. American and Iranian officials said that two had arrived in Doha.
It was not clear whether the exchange might achieve progress on the many issues that divide the two countries, including Iran’s nuclear program, its support for regional Shiite militias, the presence of US forces in the Gulf, and US sanctions on Iran.
In a sign of Biden’s desire, a Democrat, to maintain a tough front towards Iran and perhaps mitigate Republican criticism, he announced the imposition of US sanctions on former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence “for their involvement in illegal arrests.”
“We will continue to impose costs on Iran due to its provocative actions in the region,” he said in the statement, in which he thanked the governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland and South Korea for their assistance in securing the release of prisoners.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that a plane sent by the Qatari mediator transported the five American citizens and two of their relatives from Tehran after the two sides obtained confirmation that $6 billion had been transferred from South Korea to Qatari accounts.
Republicans have criticized Biden for paying what they say amounts to a ransom for the release of American detainees.
Biden aides say the money belongs to Iran and is transferred from South Korea to Qatari accounts, where it can only be spent on food, medicine and other humanitarian items under US supervision.
A US official said that two of the five Iranians had arrived earlier in Qatar. Three of them chose not to return to Iran.
The five Iranian Americans – one of whom has been detained for eight years on charges the United States rejected as baseless – were scheduled to board a US government plane in Doha and then return to the United States.
The agreement, after months of talks in Qatar, removes a major dispute between the United States, which classifies Tehran as a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which describes Washington as “the Great Satan.”
A senior US administration official said that the agreement did not change the adversarial relationship between Washington and Tehran, but the door was open to diplomacy regarding the Iranian nuclear program.
“If we see an opportunity, we will explore it, but right now I have nothing to talk about,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Among the released dual US citizens are Siamak Namazi (51 years old) and Imad Sharqi (59 years old), both businessmen, and Murad Tahbaz (67 years old), an environmental activist who also holds British citizenship.
The identities of the fourth and fifth American citizens were not revealed at their request due to their desire for privacy.
Iranian officials have released the names of the five Iranians released by the United States: Mehrdad Moin Ansari, Qambez Attar Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh, and Kaveh Afrasiabi.
Iranian media identified the two men who arrived in Doha as Moin Ansari and Sarhangpour Kafrani. Two Iranian officials previously said that Afrasiabi would remain in the United States, but did not name others.
(Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha, El Welily El Weli in Dubai and Hyunshi Shin in Seoul – Preparing by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Edmund Blair and Arshad Mohammed. Edited by Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Subtly charming student. Pop culture junkie. Creator. Amateur music specialist. Beer fanatic.”