Five American citizens released under a deal between the United States and Iran were flown out of the country and landed in Doha, Qatar, on Monday.
Later Monday, they will be repatriated to the United States.
Among the repatriated Americans are Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, as well as two others who asked that their identities not be made public. All five were designated as wrongfully detained by the U.S. government.
Tahbaz’s wife, Vida, and Namazi’s mother, Effie, were also allowed to leave Iran under the arrangement, according to a U.S. official. Unlike the other five, they had not been imprisoned by the Iranian regime but had previously been prohibited from leaving the country.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said: “Today, five innocent Americans imprisoned in Iran are finally returning home. »
“Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi and two citizens who wish to remain private will soon be reunited with their loved ones – after enduring years of agony, uncertainty and suffering,” he said. “I am grateful to our partners at home and abroad for their tireless efforts to help us achieve this outcome, including the governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland and South Korea.
“I especially thank the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, and the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, who both helped facilitate this agreement over several months of difficult, principled U.S. diplomacy “, did he declare.
Secretary of State Blinken, speaking in New York, said he had the “great pleasure” of having an “emotional conversation” with the Americans after they landed in Doha, saying it was a good reminder of the “human element at the heart” of everything we do. »
Iran’s Foreign Ministry first announced that the U.S. nationals would be released imminently early Monday morning, in accordance with an agreement reached between Washington and Tehran last month, under which the United States promised to grant pardon to five Iranians and facilitate Iran’s access to approximately $6 billion in frozen oil. income provided that the money is used for humanitarian purposes.
The seven will be transported via a Qatari plane to Doha. From there, U.S. officials say they plan to leave “as quickly as possible” for the Washington, D.C., area, where they will reunite with their families and the Department of Defense will be on hand to help families “who may request help with their recovery and integration into normal life.
The five Iranians involved in the trade were charged or convicted of non-violent crimes. Two of them do not have legal status to remain in the United States and will be transported by the US Marshals Service to Doha and then travel to Iran.
Two others are legal permanent residents of the United States and one has dual Iranian-American citizenship. Administration officials have not said whether they will remain in the United States
The five detained Americans all served their sentences in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, but were placed under house arrest when Tehran and Washington reached an agreement in principle.
Namazi, 51, is an oil executive and dual Iranian-American nationalist. He was first arrested in 2015 and then sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of “collaboration with a hostile government” due to his ties to the United States.
Shargi, a 58-year-old businessman, was arrested without explanation in 2018 and released in 2019 before being arrested again in 2020 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.
Tahbaz, 67, is an Iranian-American environmental activist who also holds British citizenship. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed a blanket waiver of U.S. sanctions, clearing the way for international banks to authorize the transfer of about $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues in exchange for Iran’s release of the five U.S. citizens detainees.
The $6 billion came from a restricted account in South Korea, where it was effectively frozen when the United States reinstated sanctions on Tehran after former President Donald Trump left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program and will be transferred to Qatar. with restrictions on how Iran can spend the funds.
Iran is expected to begin receiving its frozen assets on Monday, said Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, adding that an “active foreign policy” had led to the release of the funds.
“Today this asset will be delivered,” Kanaani said. “It will be invested where it is needed.”
Republicans rejected the planned swap in the days following the initial announcement.
“The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally. However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to lift sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion funds for Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, “This directly incentivizes future hostage-taking by America’s adversaries,” said the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. representatives, Mike McCaul, in a statement.
But National Security Council coordinator John Kirby insisted during a press briefing Wednesday that “Iran will not receive any sanctions relief.”
“It’s Iranian money that was established in these accounts to allow some trade with foreign countries on things like Iranian oil. (…) It’s not a blank check. They don’t can’t spend it the way they want. It’s not $6 billion in total.” They will have to make a request for withdrawal for humanitarian purposes only,” he said, adding that there will be “sufficient oversight to ensure that the request is valid.”
It is the Iranian people who will be the beneficiaries of the funds, not the regime, according to Kirby.
Asked why the $6 billion needed to be released in addition to the five Iranian prisoners, Kirby said: “That’s the deal we were able to make to secure the release of five Americans.” »
“We’re comfortable with the parameters of this deal. I’ve heard the critics say that somehow they get the best outcome. Ask the families of these five Americans who gets the best result and I think you would get a different answer,” he said.
Asked about Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s assertion that money is “fungible,” Kirby responded: “He’s wrong.” He is simply wrong. »
Kirby said the funds in the deal are “not a payment of any kind” or “not a ransom” to secure the Americans’ release, responding to Republicans’ complaints.
“As Chairman of the (Republican Study Committee), we will use every legislative option to undo this deal and prevent further ransom payments and sanctions relief against Iran,” Rep. Kevin Hern tweeted Tuesday.
Kanaani, the Iranian spokesman, said only two of the Iranians expected to be released from U.S. prisons were willing to return to Iran.
“Two of the (Iranian) citizens will happily return to Iran, one person will join his family in a third country and the other two citizens wish to stay in America,” Kanaani said.
This is a developing story. Please check again for updates.