Five U.S. citizens detained by Iran were released Monday in a complex, high-stakes diplomatic deal negotiated between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Biden administration that included theand the release of five Iranians facing charges in the United States. The Americans were expected to return to the United States and land in the Washington, D.C. area on Monday night.
They include Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, all of whom were sentenced to 10 years in prison on unfounded espionage charges. According to U.S. officials, two Americans involved in the deal, including a former U.N. worker, wished to remain anonymous.
The flight carrying US citizens from Tehran landed in Doha, Qatar, shortly before 11 a.m. ET on Monday. They were transferred into U.S. custody and are on a plane bound for the Washington, D.C., area, where they will be reunited with their families, senior administration officials said.
President Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with the detainees’ families in a brief call after their arrival in Doha, according to Shargi’s family. The White House described it as an “emotional call.”
Sources familiar with the planning said the Americans were expected to receive cellphones from the U.S. government to call their families and share the news of their freedom before their arrival.
A 51-year-old businessman, he was the longest-held detainee, arrested in 2015 and abandoned by the Obama and Trump administrations in previous prisoner exchanges.
a businessman and resident of Washington, DC, and Tahbaz, a British-American citizen and environmentalist, were detained in 2018.
Also on the flight were Namazi’s mother, Effie Namazi, and Tahbaz’s wife, Vida Tahbaz, who had previously been unable to leave Iran, according to senior administration officials.
Shargi’s sister said her family received video calls from him upon his arrival in Doha, in which he was “sweeping and incredibly grateful.”
Jared Genser, a pro bono attorney for the Namazi family, told CBS News that the family was overwhelmed with emotions.
“While the long, unimaginable nightmare of the namazis has come to an end, it is also the beginning of a very long road to recovery and healing,” Genser said in an emailed statement.
Upon returning to the United States, Americans will have the option to go through a support process at a military hospital at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to prepare for re-entry after captivity.
As the United States has had no official ties with Iran since 1979, the Americans were escorted to the Qatari plane by the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Nadine Olivier. She has helped monitor the well-being of Americans since they werein August following the Biden administration’s agreement in principle with the exchange.
Before the exchange, senior administration officials did not share details about the Americans’ health conditions, but noted that the Swiss had said the Iranians complied with the living conditions agreed upon for their house arrest. Olivier acted as the Biden administration’s eyes and ears on the ground, confirming to State Department officials that Americans were aboard the flight.
Switzerland and Qatar have acted as intermediaries between the United States and Iran since minimal diplomatic contact between the two nations established as part of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action broke down when the Trump administration abandoned the deal in 2018. Despite a campaign promise to revive the agreement, the Biden administration’s attempts have failed. Iran’s nuclear development has continued.
Distrust between Washington and Tehran, even in the midst of the exchange, is high. The Biden administration agreed to help Iran gain access towhich had been kept in a restricted account in South Korea as an incentive for Tehran to carry out the exchange. Sources familiar with the complex diplomatic deal told CBS News that billions in oil revenues were being transferred through European banks in the form of euros to a restricted account in Qatar as of Sunday.
“We hope to see today the complete recovery of the assets by the Islamic Republic of Iran and that they will all be transferred to Iran’s account in a friendly country in the region,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser announced on Monday. Kanaani. “The government of Iran should have full access to it, to use it according to its needs.”
The plan was for the US Treasury to prevent Tehran from accessing the funds until the Americans left Iranian airspace. The Biden administration has repeatedly said that the US Treasury will continue to monitor the account in Qatar and restrict the use of funds for humanitarian purposes only.
The Biden administration briefed Congress ahead of the deal, but Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., indicated that the information offered to his staff was not enough to defend the administration’s deal.
“Obviously, money is fungible,” Warner told “Face the Nation.” “The administration has. “I want to get a better description of those railings first.”
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, worries that any financial relief will incentivize future hostage takings.
“Every time you put a price on American heads, you get an incentive for people to take more hostages,” Turner told “Face the Nation.” He dismissed the Biden administration’s argument that funding would be restricted.
Senior administration officials reiterated Sunday night that the funds are “severely restricted” and are being channeled through “trustworthy” banks with the “full cooperation” of the Qatari government.
“This is not a payment of any kind,” a senior administration official said Sunday night.
The money, which South Korea paid Iran years ago for oil and was subsequently frozen, will only be used for humanitarian purposes and is limited to food, medicine, medical devices and agricultural products, a senior administration official said. They stressed that it is not American taxpayer money and that no funds will go directly to Iranian companies or entities. If Iran tries to divert the money, the United States will take steps to “block” the funds, the official said.
In addition to those billions, Biden agreed to grant clemency to five Iranians facing charges in the United States. Iran identified its citizens as Mehrdad Meoin Ansari, charged in 2011 and convicted in 2021 of violating economic sanctions with Iran; Amin Hasanzadeh, a Michigan resident, accused of stealing confidential documents from his employer; Kambiz Attar-Kashani, dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, convicted of conspiring to illegally export goods and technology to Iran; Canadian resident Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, accused of illegally exporting laboratory equipment through Canada and the United Arab Emirates; and Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an American academic and permanent resident living in Massachusetts who was charged with acting as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government.
The United States has not confirmed the identities of the released Iranians, but administration officials noted that they were all charged with non-violent crimes. Authorities also said the prison sentences of the two convicted Iranians were almost over.
Afrasiabi told CBS News that he would not return to Tehran, but would remain in the United States. Administration officials said they anticipate that two of the Iranians who do not have legal status in the United States will return to Iran through Doha.
A senior administration official said the deal “does not change our relationship with Iran in any way. Iran is an adversary and a state sponsor of terrorism. We will hold them accountable wherever possible.”
The Biden administration on Monday announced new sanctions against Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But the exchange ends prolonged trauma for the families of formerly detained Americans. It is also likely to reignite political debate over whether the previously announced trade benefits the heavily sanctioned Iranian regime and, in turn, incentivizes further hostage-taking.
A senior administration official said Sunday night: “We obviously don’t trust the practice at all [of taking hostages] will end,” and warned Americans that traveling to Iran is “an extremely high-risk endeavor.”
In a statement thanking those who worked to secure his freedom, Namazi also urged the Biden administration to work with world leaders to impose consequences that would deter future hostage takings.
“Mr. President, the story of my eight years of captivity is ultimately a stark reminder that once our citizens are captured by a rogue state, we are left with no good options,” Namazi said. “Only if the free world finally agrees to collectively impose draconian consequences on those who use human lives as mere bargaining chips will the Iranian regime and its ilk be forced to make different decisions.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is scheduled to arrive in New York this week to address the UN General Assembly, which Biden is also scheduled to attend.
Olivia Gazis, Kristin Brown, Bo Erickson and Caitlin Yilek contributed to this report.