US Frees Up $6B in Frozen Iran Funds in Prisoner Swap Deal

Arrangement advances to free 5 Iranian prisoners in US in exchange for 5 American prisoners in Iran
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2023 9:43 AM CDT
US Moves Forward Deal to Free 5 American Prisoners in Iran
President Biden is seen in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Monday.   (AP Photo/Minh Hoang, Pool)

Five American citizens detained in Iran are now set to be released, after the Biden administration agreed to release five Iranian citizens held in the United States. Per the AP, the next step in the deal also included the US issuing a waiver to banks around the world to allow for the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds from South Korea to Qatar, without the threat of international sanctions. Congress was informed of the completed sanctions waiver on Monday; Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off on it late last week.

The arrangement, which will allow Iran to use money transferred to Qatar's central bank for humanitarian goods like medicine and food, wasn't a total surprise—whispers of it started circulating last month. The Washington Post identifies three of the US prisoners held in Iran that will be involved in the swap: Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, a businessman who's been detained since 2015; Iranian-American Morad Tahbaz, who also holds citizenship with the UK and has been detained since 2018; and Emad Shargi, an American who also holds Iranian citizenship and has similarly been detained since 2018. The families of the two other US prisoners set to be released have asked to withhold their identities.

It's not clear when the prisoner swap will take place, though some sources familiar with the negotiations tell the AP it could happen as early as next week. A National Security Council spokeswoman calls the deal a "sensitive and ongoing process." "What is being pursued here is an arrangement wherein we secure the release of five wrongfully held Americans," said Adrienne Watson. "While this is a step in the process, no individuals have been or will be released into US custody this week."

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"It is long-standing US policy to ensure our sanctions do not prevent food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods and services from flowing to ordinary people, no matter how objectionable their governments," the State Department said in a statement Monday, adding, that the Biden administration would continue to push back on Iran's human rights abuses, "support for terrorism," and its bolstering of Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. Some Republican lawmakers are balking at the move. "A direct incentive for America's adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking," is how Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, frames it, per the Post. (More Iran stories.)

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