Five Americans freed in U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange

September 18, 2023

Five Americans were freed from wrongful detention in Iran Monday following a prisoner exchange 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.

Also as part of the deal, which was first reported last week, the U.S. agreed to release five Iranian citizens detained in the United States. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had signed off on the sanctions waivers during the week prior to the agreement being reached.

A plane carrying five Americans and two of their relatives had taken off Monday from Iran en route to Qatar.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was the first to acknowledge the swap would take place Monday. He said the cash sought for the exchange had been moved from South Korea to Qatar.

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.

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.

PHOTO: Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz

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