White House announces prisoner exchange with Iran
(The Hill) — Five Americans who have been detained in Iran were released Monday in exchange for the Biden administration granting clemency to five Iranians and moving $6 billion in a restricted Iranian account, the White House announced.
Five American citizens wrongfully imprisoned and two family members who have been banned from traveling from Iran boarded a Qatari plane en route for Doha early Monday, according to a senior administration official. They will then travel to Washington to reunite with their families.
The citizens include Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi and two unidentified Americans who have wished to remain private. Additionally, the mother of Namazi and the wife of Tahbaz, both of whom have not been able to leave Iran, will be on the plane.
Five Iranians who were convicted of nonviolent crimes will be freed in the exchange, the official said. Two of the Iranians who do not have legal status in the U.S. will return to Doha. These prisoners are Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Ansari, Amin Hasanzadeh, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani and Kambiz Attar Kashani.
The U.S. is also moving $6 billion of Iranian funds frozen in South Korea to a Qatari bank as part of the deal. The funds will be available for Iran for limited use and only for humanitarian transactions such as food, medicine and agricultural products.
“These are Iranian funds, payments made by South Korea to Iran for purchases of oil years ago, including during the last administration,” an official said. “These funds will be available only for transactions for humanitarian goods with vetted third-party non-Iranian vendors.”
If Iran tries to divert the funds or use them for another use other than humanitarian purchases, “we will take action to lock up the funds,” the official added.
The administration has received pushback for the deal, with Republicans expressing “deep concern” about potential threats to national security from the agreement.
“This has been a process that has been going on for a very difficult negotiation really over a period of years,” the official said, adding that some offers during negotiations were “flat out rejected” by the Biden administration.
A new set of sanctions against actors in Iran will also be issued on Monday.
The administration will announce sanctions on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) for holding and integrating prisoners and for its history of human rights abuses. And, it will sanction former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “for constant promotion of lies about Bob Levinson’s whereabouts that still persist to this day,” an official said.
An official said the Biden administration is still working to get more information on Levinson, who disappeared in Iran during a CIA mission in 2007 and is expected to have been murdered.
“The United States will never give up on Bob Levinson’s case,” the official said, adding that it calls on Iran to give details about what happened to him.
Ahead of the White House’s announcement Monday, a spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed that a prisoner swap with the U.S. would take place. Nasser Kanaani said during a news conference broadcast on state television that $6 billion in unfrozen Iranian assets, which had been a key condition to allow the prisoner swap, had been transferred successfully from South Korea to Qatar.