Five US nationals held in Iran ‘will be released TODAY’ in prisoner exchange and board a plane once $6billion in frozen funds are released

  • An Iranian government spokesman confirmed that the prisoner swap of five Americans for five Iranians will take place on Monday
  • In addition, Iran will also see $6 billion of previously frozen monies returned to the Islamic Republic from South Korea  

Tehran said a controversial deal with its arch foe the United States for unfreezing Iranian funds worth $6 billion then swapping five detainees each would go ahead on Monday but the exact time has not been specified after months of talks mediated by Qatar.

Iran‘s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said the funds frozen in South Korea would be in Iran’s possession on Monday, which would trigger the swap of five U.S. citizens detained in Iran for five Iranians held in the U.S.

Under the carefully choreographed deal, the five Americans, with dual nationality, including one with British citizenship, are expected to leave Tehran and head to Qatar.

When the money is confirmed to have been transferred from South Korea to Switzerland and then on to Qatar, it will trigger the release of the prisoners, reports NBC News. 

Businessman Emad Shargi (left) and British-born environmentalist Morad Tahbaz are two of the U.S. citizens transferred from prison to house arrest before a possible deal

The transfer of Iran’s funds has drawn criticism from  Republicans who say President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is in effect paying a ransom for U.S. citizens. The White House has defended the deal. 

The deal, first made public on Aug. 10, will remove a major irritant between Washington and Tehran, although the two sides remain deeply at odds over issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its influence around the region to U.S. sanctions and America’s military presence in the Gulf.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry had said on Monday it was working with all parties on the deal ‘to ensure smooth progress of all procedures so that it will be resolved once and for all.’

The money has been held in Korea’s Industrial Bank of Korea and Woori Bank since 2019 when a sanction waiver over oil imports expired. 

The U.S. dual citizens to be released include Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British nationality. They were released from prison and put under house arrest last month.

Namazi, an oil executive, was arrested in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years for ‘collaboration with a hostile government’ thanks to his ties to the US. 

Sharqi was arrested for an undisclosed reason in 2018, released and subsequently rearrested in 2020. Shortly after his second arrest, Sharqi was sentenced to 10 years on espionage charges. 

A view of the entrance of Evin prison in Tehran, Iran, where the Americans were held

Republicans condemned the Biden administration for paying a ransom for Americans

Meanwhile, Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years on similar charges in 2018.  

A fourth U.S. citizen was also released into house arrest, while a fifth was already under house arrest. Their identities have not been disclosed.

Iranian officials have named the five Iranians to be released by the U.S. as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi. 

Moin-Ansari and Kashani have been serving federal prison sentences while others are on supervised release prior to their trials.  

Two Iranian officials said Afrasiabi would remain in the United States.

As a first step in the deal, Washington waived sanctions to allow the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar. The funds had been blocked in South Korea, normally one of Iran’s largest oil customers, because of U.S. sanctions.

Under the agreement, Doha agreed to monitor how Iran spends the funds to ensure it goes on non-sanctioned humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine.

Ties between Washington and Tehran have been boiling since Donald Trump, a Republican, pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear deal between Iran and global powers when he was president in 2018. Reaching another nuclear deal has gained little traction since then, as Biden prepares for the 2024 U.S. election.

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