Antony Blinken speaks at U.N. about five Americans freed from Iran

September 18, 2023

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday delivered remarks to the press at the United Nations General Assembly regarding the release of five Americans freed from Iran in a prisoner exchange earlier in the day. 

The freed Americans landed in Doha, Qatar Monday hours after being freed amid a U.S.-Iran deal that included a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without fear of U.S. sanctions.

“I spoke to them after they landed in Doha,” Blinken said Monday at the U.N. “I can tell you that it was for them, for me, an emotional conversation.”

The freed American prisoners include include Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized spying 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. The two other U.S. citizens have not been publicly named.

From Doha, the five freed Americans along with Namazi’s mother and Tahbaz’s wife who were also on the plane, will travel on to Washington DC to meet their families.

“Today, their freedom—freedom of these Americans for so long unjustly imprisoned and detained in Iran—means some pretty basic things,” Blinken noted during his remarks. “It means that husbands and wives, fathers and children, grandparents can hug each other again, can see each other again, can be with each other again. So it’s a day that I’m grateful for.” 

The State Department had designated the Americans as “wrongfully detained” which shifts a U.S. prisoner in a foreign country to a specialized section of the agency, called the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. That office is focused on negotiating for the release of captives.

Months ago, Iran had anticipated getting as much as $7 billion in a prisoner swap with the U.S., and last month reports had emerged that four of the wrongfully detained Americans had been moved from Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison and placed under house arrest at an Iranian hotel—which had been viewed as a major step toward their release.

Blinken on Monday thanked an “extratordinary team” at the State Department and throughout the U.S. government, as well as a number of partners who’ve been “vital in helping us reach this day” in Oman, Switzerland, Qatar, and the United Kingdom. “Each has played a very important role in enabling us to free or fellow citizens,” Blinken said. 

However, Blinken went on to say, “As happy as we are at the freedom of our fellow citizens, we also are thinking today of Bob Levinson who is not among them and is presumed deceased.” 

Levinson was an FBI special agent who disappeared on Iran’s Kish Island in March 2007.

“Bob’s legacy, however, lives on,” said Blinken. “He lives on powerfully in the Levinson Act which has given us new and important tools to help crack down and deter the practice of taking Americans unlawfully to try to turn them into political pawns and to abuse the international system in that way.”

The 2020 Levinson Act defined “wrongful detention.” According to the State Department, it allows the U.S. government to consider factors “including, but not limited to, the fairness of the judicial process, the veracity of the charges, and motivation or other circumstances surrounding or related to the arrest or the detention.”

In a written press statement, Blinken reiterated his warning to U.S. citizens: “do not travel to Iran. While this group of U.S. citizens has been released, there is no way to guarantee a similar result for other Americans.”

PHOTO: Blinken on Iran Prisoner Swap

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