Iran-US Prisoner Swap Underway, as $6 Billion of Once-Frozen Iranian Assets Reach Qatar

The landmark prisoner swap sees the release of five Americans and Iranians, while once-frozen Iranian assets find their way to Qatar for humanitarian use

By Mohammad Al-Kassim/The Media Line

Five American prisoners were freed and $6 billion of frozen Iranian assets were released to Qatar on Monday, marking the conclusion of the prisoner exchange deal between Iran and the United States.

The governor of the Central Bank of Iran confirmed on Monday afternoon that the money, held in South Korea, had been transferred from Switzerland into the Gulf state.

The American detainees were transported to a Qatari jet, which brought the five Americans from Tehran to Doha. Qatar helped broker the deal, as Iran and the United States do not maintain diplomatic relations.

The deal, which came just ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York featuring an address by Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, saw the release of five US citizens from detention. In return, Iran says, the United States will release five Iranian detainees.

“The prisoner exchange will take place on the same day and five Iranian citizens imprisoned in America will be released,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told a Tehran press conference on Monday. “We hope to have total access to the Iranian assets today.”

Kanaani confirmed the swap would take place Monday when the cash was successfully transferred to an account in Qatar. Under the deal, the money is to be used for humanitarian purchases.

The spokesman insisted that the money would allow Tehran to “purchase all nonsanctioned goods,” not just food and medicine.

Such statements drew criticism from US lawmakers, especially from the Republicans who claimed that the deal led by President Joe Biden released funds that would boost Tehran’s struggling economy at a time when it poses a growing threat to US troops and its regional allies.

The money represents oil purchased before former President Donald Trump’s administration imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019. It was frozen after Trump pulled out of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The new development is seen as a confidence-building measure, but tension remains high between the two countries. According to the US, Iran is currently enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

The released American prisoners include Siamak Namazi, a businessman arrested in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges, which his family has rejected.

The others are Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years, and British-American wildlife conservationist Morad Tahbaz, who is of Iranian descent and was arrested in 2018, also receiving a 10-year sentence. US officials have so far declined to identify the fourth and fifth prisoners.

The US government has designated all five Americans as being wrongfully detained. The five Americans – all considered Iranian nationals by Tehran, which rejects dual nationality – were released to house arrest when the deal was agreed on last month.

“On the subject of the prisoner swap, it will happen today, and five prisoners, citizens of the Islamic Republic, will be released from the prisons in the US,” Kanaani said. “Five imprisoned citizens who were in Iran will be given to the US side reciprocally, based on their will. We expect these two issues to fully take place based on the agreement.”

Meanwhile, Iran has also demanded the release of five Iranian prisoners who were held for allegedly trying to export material to Iran, violating sanctions.

Last week, the official IRNA news agency identified the five Iranian prisoners. They include Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani and Kambiz Attar-Kashani, who are both accused of having violated US sanctions against Tehran.

A third prisoner, political scientist Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, was detained at his home near Boston in 2021 and charged with being an Iranian government agent, according to US officials.

Two others included in the deal, Mehrdad Moin-Ansari and Amin Hassanzadeh, were said to have links to Iranian security forces.

Out of the five Iranians to be released, two will return to Iran while two others will remain in the United States upon their request, said Kanaani. A fifth Iranian prisoner will travel to a third country, he added.

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