Washington, Sept 19, (dpa/GNA) – Five US citizens who had been locked up in Iran, were on their way home on Monday, as part of a prisoner swap between Washington and Tehran.
The deal comes after months of negotiations between the two foes, which remain at loggerheads over Iran’s nuclear programme, and includes the US unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian funds.
The five Americans flew from Iran to Doha, Qatar, with two family members also on the plane. They head from there to the United States.
President Joe Biden welcomed Iran’s release of Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi, and two citizens, who wish to remain private.
All of them had been designated as “wrongfully detained” by the US State Department.
The former detainees “will soon be reunited with their loved ones, after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering,” Biden said in a statement.
Namazi, a businessman who holds both US and Iranian citizenship, was imprisoned in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage. He was held at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.
A statement was issued on behalf of Namazi that said: “I would not be free today, if it wasn’t for all of you who didn’t allow the world to forget me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
“Thank you for being my voice when I could not speak for myself and for making sure I was heard when I mustered the strength to scream from behind the impenetrable walls of Evin Prison.”
Environmentalist Tahbaz and businessman Shargi were detained in 2018. The identities of the two others released on Monday have not been released.
On the US side, five Iranians who were convicted or charged with “non-violent crimes” were granted clemency and allowed to return to Iran.
As part of the deal, Iran had demanded the release of about $6 billion in funds that were frozen in South Korea, because of international sanctions.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the funds had arrived in Qatar, allowing the deal to move forward.
Former US vice president Mike Pence said ahead of the deal’s announcement: “[US President Joe] Biden has authorized the largest ransom payment in American history to the Mullahs in Tehran.”
Critics warned that Tehran could use the billions of dollars for military purposes.
Biden, who described the negotiations as “difficult,” thanked the governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland, and South Korea for their help in realizing the deal.
He also announced new sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence “for their involvement in wrongful detentions.”
He reminded US citizens about the risk of travelling to Iran and said Washington, could not guarantee their freedom should they be detained.
“American passport holders should not travel there,” he said.