The former American prisoners, including one who had been imprisoned for eight years, and two members of his family, left Tehran on Monday morning aboard a Qatari flight bound for Doha, where they stopped before taking off again, this once aboard an American plane. , for the United States.
The White House said President Joe Biden had an “emotional” conversation with the families of the seven Americans who left Iran on Monday.
In New York, the head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken, said he spoke with the freed Americans after their arrival in Doha, where they were welcomed on the tarmac with hugs.
“It’s really nice to be able to say that our fellow citizens are now free,” he told the press, justifying once again the agreement with Tehran, highly criticized in the United States by the Republican opposition.
In Doha, a transfer of frozen Iranian funds to South Korea worth $6 billion was announced and confirmed by Iran.
Qatar was one of the mediators of the agreement.
This transfer was part of the agreement, as was the release of five Iranian prisoners by the United States on Monday. Two of them, benefited from a measure of clemency, returned to Tehran after having also passed through Doha, according to the official Iranian agency.
The other three freed former prisoners do not wish to go to Iran.
The transfer of funds to six Iranian accounts in two Qatari banks took place on Monday, confirmed Mohammadreza Farzin, governor of the Iranian Central Bank.
This agreement was announced on August 10 and five Iranian Americans, detained in Iran, were transferred from their prison in August to be placed under house arrest.
Among them is the businessman Siamak Namazi, arrested in 2015 and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2016 for espionage. “Thank you President Biden for putting human life before politics,” he said in a statement.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also welcomed the release of the prisoners, one of whom, Morad Tahbaz, is also a British national.
A third former prisoner, Emad Sharqi, is an investor sentenced to ten years in prison for espionage. The other two did not want to be identified.
Among the five Iranians to be released by the United States are Reza Sarhangpour and Kambiz Attar Kashani, accused of having “diverted American sanctions” against Iran.
According to some experts, this agreement demonstrates a relative relaxation of tensions between Iran and the United States, but does not prejudge a possible agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue.
The spokesman for the UN secretary general hoped on Monday that this would lead to “a reduction in tensions” between the two countries, which have not maintained diplomatic relations since the 1979 revolution.
But Washington wanted to temper expectations.
“This process, the commitments that were necessary to release these unjustifiably detained Americans, have always been separate from our commitments, or lack thereof, with Iran” on nuclear energy, Blinken said, without foreseeing new discussions, even indirect ones. . in the near future.
Negotiations led by the Europeans failed in 2022 to reactivate the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, moribund since the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump.
The prisoner exchange comes on the same day that Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi is expected to visit New York to participate in the UN General Assembly.
Coincidence or coincidence, the Biden administration, criticized by the Republican opposition that calls the exchange a “bailout,” announced sanctions on Monday against the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the US president promised on Monday to “continue sanctioning Iran for its provocative actions in the region.”
The United States insists that this is not a “blank check” offered to Iran and that the use of these funds “for humanitarian purposes” would only be under “strict supervision.” These funds, coming from the sale of hydrocarbons by Iran, were blocked after US sanctions.
The money that has been “cruelly blocked until now and is currently in the possession of the Islamic Republic belongs to the (Iranian) people and we will use it to meet the needs of the people,” President Raïssi was quoted as saying in New York. by the Iranian media.