USA and Iran exchange prisoners

USA and Iran exchange prisoners
Free again: Siamak Namazi (right), Emad Sharqi (left) and Morad Tahbaz

Iran has released five US citizens as part of a prisoner swap. They were flown on board a plane from Tehran to Qatar on Monday. Iran had recently announced that the exchange would take place on Monday. At the same time, according to the White House, Iran will have access to around six billion US dollars (around 5.6 billion euros) from its own assets; the money had been frozen in South Korea due to international sanctions.

Five Americans and two family members who were banned from traveling by Iran are on their way back to the USA. In return, the US pardoned five Iranians who had been convicted or charged there. The prisoner swap had been prepared for months. The Gulf states of Oman and Qatar played a particularly important role in the negotiations.

Two businessmen and an environmentalist

At the beginning of August, Iran released the now released Americans from custody and placed them under house arrest in a hotel in the capital Tehran. Now they could leave the country. One of the most well-known of them is businessman Siamak Namasi, who holds both American and Iranian citizenship. He was imprisoned in 2015 and sentenced to ten years in prison for espionage. In 2018, environmentalist Morad Tahbas and businessman Emad Shargi were arrested. The identities of the other two Americans who have now been released are not publicly known.

US allegations against the prisoners

According to information from Tehran, the US justice system will release five convicted Iranians as part of the agreement. According to US media reports, they are said to have tried, among other things, to circumvent international sanctions. An Iranian was also accused of industrial espionage. Another is said to have violated a law requiring “foreign representatives” to register in the United States. According to the Iranian judiciary, two men were already on their way to their homeland, and another wanted to fly to a third country. Two Iranians want to stay in the USA.

According to Tehran and Washington, the money to which Iran is now supposed to have access was exchanged by South Korea in several tranches for euros and transferred to Qatar. The Islamic Republic should be able to use the assets to purchase goods under supervision that are not affected by international sanctions. Due to the punitive measures, Iran is cut off from global payment transactions.

Iran’s President at the UN meeting in New York

The exchange took place shortly before the start of the UN General Assembly in New York, which Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is also taking part in. The ultra-conservative politician is criticized in the country and internationally. According to observers, the government under the Ayatollah also expects to gain political tailwind from successes on the international stage.

There had been a lot of criticism in the USA in advance of the agreement with Tehran. Former US Vice President Mike Pence, for example, described the deal as the “largest ransom payment in American history.” Critics warned that Tehran could possibly use the billions of US dollars for military purposes.

USA: Money for the Iranian people

The US government has tried to allay concerns in recent weeks. She emphasized several times that the billions could only be used for humanitarian purposes – for example for medicine or food. It is not a ransom and not money from US taxpayers, but rather Iranian money that should only benefit the Iranian people and not Iran’s leadership. The assets could only be used for transactions for food, medicine, medical devices and agricultural products, a US government official said.

The US side also previously rejected Raisi’s claims that the money should flow into other areas, such as “domestic production”, which Raisi did not specify. It is important that the exchange has not changed the relationship with Iran in any way, the US representative emphasized. The country is an enemy and a terror-supporting state. The White House also announced that it would impose further sanctions against Iran – including against the Ministry of Intelligence.

Iran imprisons alleged spies

Iran repeatedly detains foreigners on charges of espionage or other national security violations. Human rights activists criticize the proceedings, which are often held behind closed doors, as unfair. The Islamic Republic is also accused of holding foreigners hostage. Several Germans are also imprisoned in Iran.

Relations between Iran and the US are historically bad. Both countries were repeatedly on the brink of war. In January 2020, the USA killed the powerful Iranian general Ghassem Soleimani in a drone strike in neighboring Iraq. Weeks of military tension followed. The storming of the US embassy by students and the subsequent hostage-taking on November 4, 1979 had irrevocably worsened relations between the two countries.

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