- Qatar brokered swap deal during months of negotiations
- Qatari plane transports five US citizens and two family members
- Five Iranians in the United States will be released, three will not return to Iran
- The agreement involved transferring $6 billion from Iran to Qatar from South Korea
DOHA, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Five American citizens left Iran and landed in Doha on Monday as prisoners. exchange for five Iranians detained in the United States and the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds in a rare moment of cooperation between the long-standing antagonists.
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally returning home,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement, shortly before the American detainees descended the stairs of a Qatari plane to be hugged by US diplomats.
Separately, Iran’s Press TV said the five Iranians detained by the United States and accused of committing crimes had been released, an apparent reference to them having been granted clemency. Two arrived in Doha, U.S. and Iranian officials said.
It was unclear whether the exchange could bring progress on the many issues dividing the two nations, including Iran’s nuclear program, its support for regional Shiite militias, the presence of US troops in the Gulf and US sanctions on Iran.
In a sign that Biden, a Democrat, wants to maintain a tough front toward Iran and perhaps forceful criticism of Republicans, he announced U.S. sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his intelligence ministry “for their involvement in unjust detentions.” .
“We will continue to impose costs on Iran for 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 help in securing the releases.
A plane sent by mediator Qatar took the five American citizens and two of their relatives out of Tehran after both sides obtained confirmation that $6 billion was transferred from South Korea to Qatari accounts, an informed source told Reuters. on the matter.
Republicans have criticized Biden for paying what they say amounts to a ransom for American detainees.
Biden’s advisers argue that the money belongs to Iran and is being transferred from South Korea to Qatari accounts, where it can only be spent on food, medicine and other humanitarian items under US supervision.
Earlier, two of the five Iranians landed in Qatar, a US official said. Three have chosen not to return to Iran.
The five Iranian Americans, one of whom had been detained for about eight years on charges the United States had rejected as unfounded, were to board a U.S. government plane in Doha and then fly back to the United States.
The agreement, after months of talks in Qatar, eliminates an important annoying between the United States, which calls Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which calls Washington the “Great Satan.”
A senior U.S. administration official said the deal did not change Washington’s adversarial relationship with Tehran, but the door was open to diplomacy over Iran’s 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 freed dual US citizens are Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British nationality.
The identities of the fourth and fifth US citizens were not revealed at their request due to their desire for privacy.
Iranian officials have named the five Iranians released by the United States as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi.
Iranian media identified the two men who landed in Doha as Moin-Ansari and Sarhangpour-Kafrani. Two Iranian officials previously said Afrasiabi would remain in the United States, but did not name others.
Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha, Elwely Elwelly in Dubai and Hyonshee Shin in Seoul; Written by Edmund Blair and Arshad Mohammed; Edited by Andrew Cawthorne and William Maclean.
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