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Five Americans detained in Iran are freed in a deal for frozen Iranian assets

Five Americans detained in Iran are freed in a deal for frozen Iranian assets


DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Five Americans held for years in Iran stepped off a plane and were released Monday, some arm in arm, as part of a politically risky deal in which President Joe Biden agreed to the release of nearly $6 billion. of dollars. on frozen Iranian assets owed by a third country, South Korea.

The successful negotiations for the Americans’ freedom earned Biden abundant gratitude from their families, but heat from his Republican presidential rivals and other opponents over the monetary agreement with one of the United States’ main adversaries.

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“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally returning home,” Biden said in a statement issued as the plane carrying the group from Tehran landed in Doha, Qatar. A plane that would take the Americans back to the United States was due to land Monday night.

Iran’s hardline president Ebrahim Raisi, attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, suggested that Monday’s exchange could be “a step in the direction of humanitarian action between us and the United States.”

“It can definitely help build trust,” Raisi told reporters.

However, tensions will almost certainly remain high between the United States and Iran, which are locked in disputes over Tehran’s nuclear program and other issues. Iran says the program is peaceful, but it is now enriching uranium further than ever to weapons-grade levels.

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The prisoner release came amid a major US military buildup in the Persian Gulf, with the possibility of US troops boarding and guarding commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all cargo shipments pass. Petroleum.

After the plane slowed to a stop in Doha, three of the prisoners walked down the stairs. They hugged the US ambassador to Qatar, Timmy Davis, and others.

The three, Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, threw their arms over each other and headed towards a building at the airport.

In a statement issued on his behalf, Namazi said: “I would not be free today if it were not for all of you who did not let the world forget me.”

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“Thank you for being my voice when I could not speak for myself and for making sure I was heard when I mustered the strength to scream behind the impenetrable walls of Evin Prison,” he said.

The United States did not immediately identify the other two freed Americans, all of whom were freed in exchange for five Iranians in US custody and for the deal on frozen Iranian assets. The Biden administration said the five released Iranians do not pose any threat to US national security.

Also on the plane were two relatives of the imprisoned Americans, Effie Namazi and Vida Tahbaz, who had been under a travel ban in Iran. The women also linked arms and kissed on the track in Qatar.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said two of the Iranian prisoners will remain in the United States. Meanwhile, Nour News, a website believed to be close to Iran’s security establishment, said two of the Iranian prisoners were in Doha for the exchange.

Nour News identified the two Iranians released in Doha as Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian sentenced by the United States to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military equipment, and Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani . , an Iranian charged in 2021 with allegedly illegally exporting laboratory equipment to Iran.

The $5.9 billion in cash released to Iran represents money that South Korea owed Iran, but had not yet paid, for oil purchased before the United States imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.

The United States maintains that, once in Qatar, the money will be held in restricted accounts to be used only for humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food. Those transactions are currently permitted under US sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic for the advancement of its nuclear program.

Iranian government officials have largely agreed, although some hardliners have insisted, without evidence, that there would be no restrictions on how Tehran spends the money.

The planned exchange comes ahead of world leaders meeting at the UN General Assembly this week in New York, where Raisi will speak.

The deal has already exposed Biden to new criticism from Republicans and others who say the administration is helping to boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to U.S. troops and Middle East allies. That could have implications for his re-election campaign.

Former President Donald Trump, currently the leading Republican rival in polls against Biden’s 2024 re-election bid, called it an “absolutely ridiculous” deal on the social media site Truth Social.

Biden held what the White House described as an emotional phone call with the families of the freed Americans after their release.

In his statement, Biden urged Americans not to travel to Iran and demanded more information about what happened to Bob Levinson, an American who disappeared years ago. The Biden administration also announced new sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

The US government, prisoners’ families and activists have denounced that the charges against the five Americans are unfounded.

The Americans included Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges; Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years; and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.

In a statement, Sharghi’s sister Neda said, “I can’t wait to hug my brother and never let him go.”

“This is my brother, not an abstract policy,” he added. “We are talking about human lives. “There is nothing partisan about saving the lives of innocent Americans and today should be a moment of American unity as we welcome them home.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Qatar, Switzerland, South Korea and Oman for helping make the deal a reality. Biden promised in a statement to continue pushing for “Iran and other regimes to be held accountable for the cruel practice of unjust detention.”

Iran and the United States have a history of prisoner exchanges dating back to the storming of the American embassy in 1979 and the hostage crisis following the Islamic Revolution. Their most recent major exchange occurred in 2016, when Iran reached a deal with world powers to restrict its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The West accuses Iran of using foreign prisoners, including those with dual nationality, as bargaining chips, an accusation Tehran rejects.

Negotiations over a major prisoner swap collapsed after then-President Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018. Beginning the following year, a series of attacks and ship seizures blamed on Iran have raised tensions.

Iran also supplies Russia with the bomb-carrying drones that Moscow uses to attack sites in Ukraine in its war against kyiv, which remains another major dispute between Tehran and Washington.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Lee from Washington. Associated Press journalists Nasser Karimi and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Paul Haven in New York; Ellen Knickmeyer, Eric Tucker and Aamer Madhani in Washington, and Michelle Phillips in New York contributed.



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