Iran releases five Americans in prisoner exchange
18 September 2023
Five Americans jailed for years in Iran and widely regarded as hostages are on their way home to the United States, BBC reports.
The last pieces in a controversial swap mediated by Qatar fell into place when $6bn (£4.8bn) of Iranian funds held in South Korea reached banks in Doha.
It triggered the next step - to allow the four American men and one woman in Tehran, who are also Iranian citizens, to board a flight to Qatar's capital.
They will be met by senior US officials and then flown to Washington.
The Americans are reported to include 51-year-old businessman Siamak Namazi, who has spent nearly eight years in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, as well as businessman Emad Shargi, 59, and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also holds British nationality.
The US has said its citizens were imprisoned on baseless charges for use as political leverage.
In the first indication a deal was reached, they were moved in mid-August from Evin to a safe house in Tehran.
Five Iranians imprisoned in US jails, mainly on charges of violating US sanctions, are also being granted clemency as part of this swap. Not all of them are expected to return to Iran.
They have been named by Iran as Reza Sarhangpour, Kambiz Attar Kashani, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Moein Ansari and Amin Hasanzadeh.
"The Americans' nightmare is finally over. The solitary confinement, the not knowing, the lost days, the incredibly difficult disruption to the rhythm of life," reflected Iranian-born Professor Mehran Kamrava, who now teaches at Georgetown University in Qatar.
The deal comes after months of indirect talks mediated by Qatar, which began in February last year.
A source briefed on the negotiations say there were at least nine rounds of difficult discussions in Doha, with the American and Iranian delegations staying in separate hotels. Senior Qatari officials also shuttled between Tehran and Washington.
"I think there's a little bit of a win for both sides," Prof Kamrava told the BBC in Doha. "For [US President Joe] Biden, heading into the election, he's bringing Americans home and for Iran, there's the release of Iranians in prison in the United States, but it's that six billion [dollars] that's a big win."
Iranian officials have repeatedly declared they will spend their money as they wish. But sources involved in this process insist these funds will be strictly controlled.
"No funds will go into Iran," they emphasised. "Only humanitarian transactions, including food, medicine, agriculture, paid to third party vendors, transaction by transaction."
Sources told the BBC this money was not part of Iranian assets frozen by sanctions. The money in South Korea, revenue from Iranian oil sales, had been available to Tehran for bilateral and non-sanctioned aid, but was not spent for various reasons including difficulties of currency conversion.
Leading US Republicans have denounced the deal as a ransom payment and sanctions relief. The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, castigated the US government for transferring funds to "the world's top state sponsor of terrorism".