Five Americans who were released by the Iran regime arrived in Qatar on Monday.
Footage from the airport shows hostages Morad Tahbaz, Siamak Namazi, and Emad Sharghi descending the steps of the plane and being greeted by U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Timmy Davis.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked the Qataris, Swiss, South Koreans, and Omanis for helping in the exchange.
Mr. Blinken renewed warnings to U.S. citizens not to travel to Iran, saying they might not meet the same fate as the five released Monday.
The Biden administration announced on Monday that five Americans detained in Iran have been released.
“We have received confirmation that the five freed Americans and two American family members are wheels up in Tehran and en route to Doha,” a senior administration official stated earlier the day.
In comments on Sunday evening ahead of the “historic” consular deal, senior U.S. officials told reporters that Iran was expected to allow seven Americans to fly out of Tehran at 1 p.m. local time, while noting that the “process could still hit unanticipated hurdles.”
One official said that things remain extremely complex and fragile, “as with really anything we do in a country like Iran.”
The sensitive deal, which according to media reports has been negotiated for some time, was conducted with the United States agreeing to allow the one-off waiver on U.S. sanctions for $6 billion in oil funds from South Korea to Doha for Tehran to access for humanitarian purposes, and to grant clemency to five Iranians for crimes allegedly committed in the United States.
In return, Tehran released five Americans from the notorious Evan Prison into house arrest in a Tehran hotel last month. One of the five, Siamak Namazi, had already been under house arrest since 2022. He was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized espionage charges alongside his father, Baquer Namazi.
The other American prisoners include 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. Two have yet to be identified as they wish to remain anonymous.
All are dual Iranian-American citizens, although Iran does not recognise dual citizenship. The sixth and seventh unnamed individuals are family members of the prisoners who had been banned from leaving Iran. Iranian-American Shahab Dalili, a retired trade ship captain who immigrated to the United States and was arrested in 2014 in Iran when attending his father’s funeral, was not part of the deal.
Baquer Namazi, a former civil servant under Iran’s ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was released from detention by Tehran on Oct. 1, 2022. Tehran at the time claimed that it was expecting Washington to unfreeze $7 billion of its funds in relation to his release.
Iranian state news agency IRNA reported at the time about a prisoner swap negotiation, saying, “Washington is pursuing at the same time the release of its citizens detained in Tehran and the release of Iranian funds in South Korea.”
However, the Biden administration rejected Tehran’s claims. “Reports from Iranian sources of a transfer of funds related to the release of Baquer Namazi and furlough of Siamak Namazi are categorically false,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told Reuters.
According to The Associated Press, Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the sanctions waivers for the deal earlier this month.
An official said on Sunday that “a skilled group of dedicated interagency experts have spent over a year negotiating” the deal. “When the opportunity arose that we thought to do that was very much in our interests, that’s when we chose to move forward,” he added.
‘Do Not Travel’
Of the five Iranians being exchanged, two have been imprisoned and three are still awaiting trial. Two do not have legal status to be in the United States and are expected to return to Iran through Doha, an official said.
Biden administration officials said Sunday night that it was unclear if the remaining three individuals charged with crimes would be allowed to remain in America. They urged Americans not to travel to Iran, which continues to be under a travel warning of “do not travel.”
Ali Karimi Magham, a spokesman for the Iranian mission, named the Iranians in a statement to The Associated Press. They are Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian charged in 2021 with allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent on Iran’s behalf while lobbying U.S. officials on issues like nuclear policy; Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian sentenced to five years and three months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military gear; Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian and permanent resident of the United States whom prosecutors charged in 2019 with allegedly stealing engineering plans from his employer to send to Iran; Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, an Iranian charged in 2021 over allegedly unlawfully exporting laboratory equipment to Iran; and Kambiz Attar Kashani, an Iranian-American sentenced in February to two years and six months in prison for purchasing “sophisticated, top-tier U.S. electronic equipment and software” through front companies in the United Arab Emirates.
It comes as administration on Monday announced a set of new sanctions on the Iranian regime.
The new sanctions name Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and its former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for their actions in previously or currently holding hostages or wrongfully detaining Americans, and ongoing lies about FBI and CIA agent Robert Levinson’s whereabouts, a senior administration official told reporters on Sunday.
The sanctions, which are possible under the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act and Executive Order 14078, come as the Biden administration confirmed the successful release of seven Americans by plane from Tehran.
Since the Trump administration in 2018 reimposed sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, billions in Iranian funds have been frozen in a number of countries, notably China, South Korea, and Japan.
The Biden administration’s deal, which the U.S. Congress was informed of on Sept. 11, will mean that banks from Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Qatar, and South Korea can convert and transfer frozen funds from South Korea to Qatar’s central bank, where Tehran will then be able to access the funds.
The senior Biden administration official emphasized on Sunday night that the funds will be reserved for Iran’s humanitarian purchases and limited to “vetted third party non-Iranian vendors.”
He also stated that Iran would not get sanctions relief in any deal and that oil revenue would be allowed to go only into restricted accounts to be used for strictly humanitarian purposes.
“This humanitarian channel is consistent with the U.S. government’s long standing law and policy across administrations that U.S. sanctions do not preclude limited humanitarian transactions for food, agricultural products, medicines and medical devices,” a second senior official told reporters on Sunday.
The Treasury Department has since released a detailed description of the due diligence and monitoring standards that are in place, which is “designed to guard against money laundering [and the] misuse/evasion of U.S. sanctions.”
“If Iran tries to divert the funds or use them for anything other than the limited humanitarian purposes authorized, we’ll take action to lock up funds,” he said.
However, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told NBC News on Sept. 12 that the unfrozen money “belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money” and that the funds will go wherever Tehran needs them.
Not everyone in Washington is convinced that the Biden administration’s sizable concession to Iran in its prisoner swap and funds release is sending the right signal on American foreign policy.
Many Republicans have said that the deal makes it appear as if the Biden administration is essentially providing a ransom for the U.S. citizens.
“There’s NO downside for dictatorships, like Iran or Russia, to take Americans hostage,” Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “With Biden, these regimes always get a good deal in the end, and that’s why they’ll keep doing it.”
Although limited to humanitarian purposes, the $6 billion will give the Iranian regime a much-needed boost for its struggling economy and the growing backlash among its citizens. Critics have also warned that the humanitarian funds could allow Iran to divert resources to support militias active in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.
Meanwhile, analysts have pointed to observations of a strengthening of ties by the new “authoritarian Axis,” with Tehran’s moves to improve relations with China and Russia, through its joining of organizations like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Russia and Iran also continue to ink new defense agreements, with Iran providing hundreds of suicide drones for use in Ukraine in return for the Russian Federation selling the Islamist regime fifth-generation fighter jets and other advanced capabilities.
And there remain significant concerns about Tehran’s nuclear initiatives, as it has been accumulating near-weapons-grade enriched uranium, and boasted last year that it has the “technical means” to make a nuclear bomb, but then saying it has no plans to do so. Highly enriched uranium and plutonium are two key ingredients used to build nuclear weapons.
Iran Remains ‘Adversary’ State
One senior Biden administration official emphasized to reporters on Sunday night that the deal “has not changed our relationship with Iran in any way. Iran is an adversary and a state sponsored terrorism. We will hold them accountable wherever possible.”
He added, “When we have an opportunity to bring American citizens home, we do seek to seize it and that’s what we’re doing here. The president is making five families whole again, that’s ultimately what this is about.”
Last week, the Biden administration announced more sanctions against entities connected with the death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, 22, who died while in the custody of the country’s morality police, and also those involved in censoring citizens in a country-wide internet shutdown in Iran.
Ms. Amini had been detained for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely in violation of laws that require women in public to wear the Islamic headscarf. She died three days later in police custody, which Iranian authorities said was owing to a heart attack.
Her death set off protests in dozens of cities across the country of 80 million people, with young women marching in the streets and publicly exposing and cutting off their hair. The government responded with a fierce suppression, blaming the protests on foreign interference.
Mimi Nguyen-Ly, Jackson Richman, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times