- Qatar brokered the swap deal during months of negotiations
- Qatar plane carrying five US citizens, two relatives
- Five Iranians in the US will be freed, three will not return to Iran
- The deal involved the transfer of Iran’s $6 billion to Qatar from North Korea
DOHA, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Five American citizens left Iran and landed in Doha on Monday in a prisoner swap for five Iranians held in the United States and the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds in a rare deal between the longtime adversaries. .
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that “they will soon be reunited with their loved ones – after years of suffering, uncertainty and suffering.”
It was unclear whether the exchange could bring progress on the many issues that divide the two nations, including Iran’s nuclear program, its support for regional Shiite militias, the presence of US troops in the Persian Gulf and US sanctions against Iran.
A plane sent by broker Qatar flew five American citizens and two of their relatives out of Tehran after both sides received confirmation that the funds had been transferred to accounts in Doha, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
A Reuters witness saw the plane land at Doha International Airport.
US officials received the five Americans after they disembarked from the Qatar plane in Doha, a Reuters witness said. The Swiss ambassador to Iran accompanied them on the plane to Doha, the witness added.
Earlier, two of the five Iranians landed in Qatar, a US official said. Three chose not to return to Iran.
Five Iranian-Americans — one of whom has been held for about eight years on charges the United States has dismissed as unfounded — were to board a U.S. government plane in Doha and then fly home to the United States.
The agreement, after months of talks in Qatar, removes a major irritant between the US, which calls Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which Washington calls the “Great Satan”.
A senior US administration official said the deal did not change Washington’s hostile relationship with Tehran but left the door open for diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program.
“If we see an opportunity, we will explore it, but right now I don’t really have anything to talk about,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The US dual citizens released include Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who is also a British national. They were released from prison last month and placed under house arrest.
A fourth US citizen was also released under house arrest, while a fifth was already under house arrest. Their identities have not been released.
Iranian officials named the five Iranians released by the US as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi. Two Iranian officials previously said Afrasiabi would remain in the United States, but did not mention the others.
Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha, Elwela Elwella in Dubai and Hyonshee Shin in Seoul; Screenplay by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean
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