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US-bound Doha flight departs with 5 freed by Iran

US-bound Doha flight departs with 5 freed by Iran
Photo:  Online

A US-bound plane carrying five Americans released by Iran took off from Doha on Monday in a prisoner swap for five Iranians held in the United States and release of $6bn Iranian funds, an unusual transaction between the long-term adversaries.

“Today, Biden said that five innocent Americans, who were detained in Iran are returning home,” characterized the U.S. President’s comment prior to the American detainees descended ↓ from a Qatari jet staircase to be hugged by American diplomats on Doha airport.

The White House said the five, along with two U.S. family members who left Tehran with them earlier, were on a plane bound for America where they will receive medical treatment from the U.S. military as they readjust to freedom (confirmed).

Press TV, separately quoting Iran’s foreign minister as saying that Washington had agreed to release four Iranians in exchange for the return of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Tehran since 2016 on charges of plotting to overthrow the country’s government.

The remaining three are not thought to be going back to Iran.

“This has absolutely been a humanitarian move,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said upon his arrival in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. “It can indeed be a milestone on which further humanitarian actions might stand.”

US-bound Doha flight departs with 5 freed by Iran

It was unclear if the encounter might yield progress on Tehran's broad array of disagreements with Washington, including its nuclear program, support for regional Shiite militias and presence of American troops from Iraq to the Persian Gulf to Syria as well as America's crippling sanctions campaign.

Washington believes the scheme possibly means to create nuclear weapons - an ambition denied by Tehran - that might endanger Israel or U.S. Gulf partners, a concern widely shared in Saudi Arabia and across the region.

U.S.-Iran ties have been hostile since President Trump in 2018 withdrew Washington from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposed U.S. sanctions.

Departing Vienna for the United States, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken left open the possibility of diplomacy on this "number one issue of concern" but gave no hint when it might happen.

“Right now we’re not working on that, but we’ll see in the future if there’s opportunities,” he told reporters in New York.

US analysts expressed doubt that there would be early breakthroughs of the nuclear or wider problems.

The exchange of prisoners could well "open the way for further diplomacy around the nuclear programme in the autumn, although a deal is highly unlikely", Henry Rome of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote.

Taking away an irritant is not the same as putting on a salve, Jon Alterman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies observed.


In what could be an attempt to appear tough on Iran, or perhaps neuter Republican criticism, Biden announces new U.S. sanctions on Iran's former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's intelligence ministry for "involvement in wrongful detentions."

“We will keep up the maximum pressure campaign against Iran for their malign actions, and we will continue to impose costs on Iran for its destabilizing activity in the region,” he said in a statement that also thanked Switzerland, Qatar, Oman and South Korea.

Qatar facilitated the US-Iranian talks on the detainees, with Switzerland (which represents US interests in Tehran since there are no diplomatic relations between Iran and America) helping with South Korea’s payment to Qatar.

A Qatar plane flew the five Americans and two relatives out of Tehran after they got confirmation the payments went into in Qatari accounts, a source briefed on matter said.

“This is likely to result in more Americans being detained by Iran,” said top Republican panel member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
"I have serious concerns that this $6 billion hostage deal will only incentivize future hostage-taking," McCaul wrote in an email. There is no doubt this agreement will give Iran’s malign activities a cash injection.
Biden aides say the funds are Iran’s and are being transferred from frozen South Korean accounts to blocked Qatari ones, where it can be accessed only for food, medicine and other humanitarian sales subject to U.S. approval.
2 of the 5 Iranians had landed in Qatar earlier, a U.S. official said. Three chose to not go back to Iran.
One of the five released Americans had been held for nearly eight years on what Washington said were trumped-up charges.
The accord, which follows months of discussions in Qatar, eliminates a major bone of contention between the U.S., which brands Tehran a "state sponsor of terrorism," and Iran’s regime, which calls Washington the “Great Satan.”
The Americans freed are businesspeople Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz ,67 who also has British citizenship.
(Their names were not released on their behalf for privacy reasons).
The five Iranians freed by the U.S. have been named by Iranian authorities as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi.

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