- Qatari plane brings five US citizens and two relatives to Doha
- Five Iranians in US released, three will not return to Iran
- The deal involved the transfer of 6 billion Iranian dollars to Qatar from South Korea
- Blinken leaves the door to nuclear diplomacy
DOHA/NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Reuters) – A U.S.-bound plane carrying five Americans freed by Iran left Doha on Monday as part of a prisoner swap for five Iranians held in the United States and the transfer of 6 billion dollars of Iranian funds. marking a rare agreement between the longtime antagonists.
“Today, five innocent Americans imprisoned in Iran finally return home,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement shortly before the American detainees walked down the stairs of a Qatari plane in Doha to be hugged by diplomats Americans.
The White House confirmed that a plane carrying the five people, along with two American family members who had left Tehran with them earlier, was en route to the United States, where the US military was expected to offer them treatment. medical services as they adjust to freedom.
Separately, Iranian state broadcaster Press TV said the five Iranians detained by the United States and accused of committing crimes had been released, an apparent reference to the pardon granted to them, and that two between them had landed in Tehran.
The other three are not expected to return to Iran.
“It was a purely humanitarian action,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said after arriving in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. “This can certainly be a step on the basis of which other humanitarian actions can be undertaken in the future.”
It is unclear whether this exchange could bring progress on the many issues that divide the two countries, including Iran’s nuclear program, its support for regional Shiite militias, the presence of American troops in the Gulf and American sanctions against Iran. ‘Iran.
Relations between the United States and Iran, adversaries for more than 40 years, have been particularly strained since former US President Donald Trump reneged in 2018 on an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and reimposed sanctions. American.
Washington suspects the program could aim to develop nuclear weapons – an ambition Tehran denies – that could threaten Israel or the United States’ Arab allies in the Gulf.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the door open for diplomacy on the nuclear issue, which he described as “perhaps the number one area of concern”, but suggested nothing was imminent.
“At the moment we are not committed to it, but we will see in the future if there are opportunities,” he told reporters in New York.
U.S. analysts have expressed skepticism about likely progress on nuclear or other issues.
“The prisoner exchange will likely pave the way for additional diplomacy around the nuclear program this fall, although the chances of reaching an agreement are very remote,” said Henry Rome of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Removing an irritant is different than adding an ointment,” said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In a sign that Biden, a Democrat, wants to appear tough on Iran and perhaps sharply criticize Republicans, he announced new U.S. sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his intelligence ministry for “involvement in unjustified detentions.”
“We will continue to impose costs on Iran for its provocative actions in the region,” he said in the statement, in which he thanked the governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland and the South Korea for their assistance in securing the releases.
Qatar has served as a mediator in indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran over the detainees, while Switzerland, which represents American interests in Tehran because the United States and Iran do not maintain diplomatic relations, contributed to the transfer of funds from South Korea to Qatar.
A plane sent by Qatar flew the five U.S. citizens and two of their relatives out of Tehran after both sides obtained confirmation that the $6 billion had been transferred from South Korea to Qatari accounts, Reuters was quoted as saying. Reuters a source informed of the matter.
A prominent Republican, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, said the transfer of the $6 billion would likely result in more detentions of U.S. citizens by Iran.
“I am very concerned that this $6 billion hostage deal encourages future hostage taking,” McCaul said in an emailed statement. “There is no doubt that this agreement will free up funds for Iran’s malign activities.”
Biden aides say the money belongs to Iran and is being transferred from restricted South Korean accounts to restricted Qatari accounts, where it can only be spent on food, medicine and other humanitarian items under U.S. supervision.
Earlier, two of the five Iranians landed in Qatar, a US official said. Three chose not to return to Iran.
One of the five freed Americans had been detained for about eight years on charges dismissed by Washington as baseless.
The agreement, after months of negotiations in Qatar, eliminates a major irritant between the United States, which calls Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which calls Washington the “Great Satan.”
Among the released dual US citizens are Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, as well as Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also has British citizenship.
The identities of the fourth and fifth U.S. citizens have been withheld at their request, given their desire for privacy.
Iranian officials named the five Iranians released by the United States as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi.
Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha, Elwely Elwelly in Dubai; and Hyonshee Shin in Seoul; Rami Ayyub and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk in New York and Parisa Hafezi at the United Nations; Written by Edmund Blair and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean and Timothy Gardner
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