(The Hill) — Five Americans, including a Connecticut resident, who have been detained in Iran were released Monday in exchange for the Biden administration granting clemency to five Iranians and moving $6 billion in a restricted Iranian account, the White House announced.
According to a senior administration official, five American citizens wrongfully imprisoned and two family members who have been banned from traveling from Iran boarded a Qatari plane en route to Doha early Monday. They will then travel to Washington to reunite with their families.
The citizens include Morad Tahbaz, a Connecticut resident, Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and two unidentified Americans who have wished to remain private. Additionally, the mother of Namazi and the wife of Tahbaz, both of whom have not been able to leave Iran, will be on the plane.
The official said that five Iranians convicted of nonviolent crimes will be freed in the exchange. Two of the Iranians who do not have legal status in the U.S. will return to Doha. These prisoners are Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Ansari, Amin Hasanzadeh, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani and Kambiz Attar Kashani.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) released the following statement in response to Tahbaz’s release.
“I am relieved that Morad Tahbaz is now free after many long years of unspeakably cruel, inexcusable imprisonment. Morad’s release is a testament to the courage and strength of his family and supporters, who never surrendered fighting for his freedom. I share their relief that his serious medical condition may now be treated, and his well-deserved liberty and rights have been restored.”
Congressman Jim Himes, D-4th District, also released a statement regarding Tahbaz’s release.
“I am overjoyed to hear that, after almost six years of wrongful detention in Iran, Morad Tahbaz can finally return home to Connecticut. Morad is a father, a cancer survivor, and a wildlife conservationist who was unjustly charged while working to protect endangered wildlife in Iran. This news brings tremendous relief for Morad’s children, Roxanne, Tara, and Teymoor, who have been their father’s fiercest advocates, and for his wife Vida who has been barred from leaving Iran until now. After nearly six years of tireless work to secure Morad’s release from Evin prison and the return of both Morad and Vida to the United States, I am delighted that the Tahbaz family will finally be reunited. I remain ready to support the family through their reentry and adjustment into American life.”
The U.S. is also moving $6 billion of Iranian funds frozen in South Korea to a Qatari bank as part of the deal. The funds will be available for Iran for limited use and only for humanitarian transactions such as food, medicine and agricultural products.
“These are Iranian funds, payments made by South Korea to Iran for purchases of oil years ago, including during the last administration,” an official said. “These funds will be available only for transactions for humanitarian goods with vetted third-party non-Iranian vendors.”
If Iran tries to divert the funds or use them for another use other than humanitarian purchases, “we will take action to lock up the funds,” the official added.
The administration has received pushback for the deal, with Republicans expressing “deep concern” about potential threats to national security from the agreement.
“This has been a process that has been going on for a very difficult negotiation really over a period of years,” the official said, adding that some offers during negotiations were “flat out rejected” by the Biden administration.
A new set of sanctions against actors in Iran will also be issued on Monday.
The administration will sanction Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) for holding and integrating prisoners and its history of human rights abuses. And, it will sanction former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “for constant promotion of lies about Bob Levinson’s whereabouts that still persist to this day,” an official said.
An official said the Biden administration is still working to get more information on Levinson, who disappeared in Iran during a CIA mission in 2007 and is expected to have been murdered.
“The United States will never give up on Bob Levinson’s case,” the official said, adding that it calls on Iran to give details about what happened to him.
Ahead of the White House’s announcement Monday, a spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed that a prisoner swap with the U.S. would occur. Nasser Kanaani said during a news conference broadcast on state television that $6 billion in unfrozen Iranian assets, which had been a key condition to allow the prisoner swap, had been transferred successfully from South Korea to Qatar.