Iran Prisoners Released: Five Americans Detained on Flight Leaving Country


Doha and Washington
CNN

There were five Americans Imprisoned in Iran A US official told CNN on Monday that they had been released and left Iranian airspace.

All five, who were cited as wrongly detained, were partially released A broader agreement covering the United States Freeze $6 billion in Iranian funds.

They were flown to Doha on a Qatari government jet that took off from Tehran airport on Monday afternoon local time. Two relatives of the detainees are on the boat along with the Qatari ambassador to Tehran.

The release of the Americans ends a years-long nightmare for the detainees. Three of those believed to be part of the deal – Emad Sharqi, Morad Tahbas and Siamak Namasi – have all been jailed for more than five years. Namasi has been detained since 2015. The identities of the other two Americans are not publicly known.

Siamak Namasi’s mother, Efi Namasi, and Morad Tahbas’ wife, Vida Tahbas – who were unable to leave Iran – were on the flight from Iran to Doha, according to a second senior Biden administration official.

After a stopover in the Qatari capital, they will be reunited with their families in the Washington, D.C., area, the official said.

Their release marks a significant diplomatic breakthrough after complicated back-and-forth negotiations between Washington and Tehran. The United States and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. Relations have further deteriorated under the Trump administration, with the US withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and adopting a “maximum pressure” approach to Tehran. Over the years, efforts to curb Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program have failed.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to commit human rights abuses against its own people. The death last year of 22-year-old Mahza Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests that were brutally suppressed.

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The release is the latest high-profile deal negotiated by the Biden administration to free Americans believed to be wrongfully detained abroad, following the release of Americans from Russia and Venezuela.

The US will impose new sanctions on Iran following the release. They will target Tehran’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, senior administration officials said.

They are the second sanctions imposed under an executive order signed by President Joe Biden that seeks to punish companies or criminals responsible for imprisoning Americans.

A senior Biden administration official said the deal to release Americans from Iranian custody “doesn’t change our relationship with Iran in any way.”

“Iran is an enemy and a state sponsor of terrorism,” said a second senior official. “Where possible we will hold them accountable.”

“We are focused daily on a policy for the Middle East that combines deterrence with diplomacy to reduce the risk of Iranian aggression. This is called de-escalating conflicts through diplomacy whenever possible, and contributing to and building a more stable, integrated, and prosperous Middle East region,” the official described.

“But when we have an opportunity to bring American citizens home, we try to seize it, and that’s what we’re doing here,” they said.

Under the deal between the US and Iran, $6 billion in Iranian funds that were held in restricted accounts in South Korea were transferred to restricted accounts in banks in Qatar. Iranian and US officials were notified of the transfer by Qatar on Monday, according to a source briefed on the details of the matter.

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CNN said the funds came from oil sales allowed in accounts set up under the Trump administration. Biden administration officials have insisted that funds transferred to accounts in Qatar can only be used by Iran for humanitarian purchases and that each transaction is monitored by the US Treasury Department.

“We are implementing this arrangement by establishing a humanitarian channel in Qatar,” which is designed to protect against money laundering and misuse of funds, said a second senior administration official.

The deal, which has already drawn criticism from Republicans, also involves the release of five Iranians in US custody.

A second senior administration official noted that two out of five Iranians had served most of their sentences; The other three are awaiting trial and have yet to be sentenced.

After years of back-and-forth negotiations, the overall outlines of the opposition, unveiled in Doha seven months ago, are beginning to crystallize. The first concrete public actions under the deal took place five weeks ago, when four Americans were transferred to house arrest. A fifth American was already under house arrest.

As a result, the US has had to pursue indirect routes, relying on partners in the Middle East and Europe, including Qatar, Oman, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Qatar served as the main broker of the final deal as Qatari diplomatic officials went back and forth and Iranian and American negotiators met in separate hotels — within sight of each other.

In the weeks following the move to house arrest, U.S. officials insisted that final discussions were ongoing and sensitive. At the time, the Swiss ambassador to Iran made regular visits to the Americans to check on their conditions, a senior administration official said. Since the US does not have a diplomatic presence in Iran, Switzerland acts as the US’s protectorate.

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Senior administration officials would not discuss when the US president signed the deal.

“After pretty principled, continuous diplomacy when the opportunity came together — many things we absolutely, flat out rejected — when the opportunity presented itself, we had a deal that best suited our interests, and that’s when we chose to move forward,” a second senior executive said.

They also pushed back against critics of the deal.

“These are very difficult decisions for a president to make, but I think this deal will stand,” the official said.

“When you look at the full contours of the deal, compared to the alternative — the alternative is these Americans won’t be coming home. So I think it’s very sustainable,” they said.

Namasi holds dual Iranian-American citizenship. His father, Baquer Namazi, was released for medical treatment in October 2022 after more than six years in detention in Iran.

Sharqi, a businessman, and Dahbaz, an environmentalist, were first arrested in 2018. They are also Iranian-American dual citizens.

In an unprecedented interview with CNN from Evin prison in March, Namazi made an impassioned plea to Biden to put “the freedom of innocent Americans above politics” and step up efforts to free him.

Namazi’s family, as well as the families of Sharqi and Tahbas, have made an urgent call to the Biden administration to intensify efforts to bring their loved ones home.

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