DUBAI: Iran agreed to release four American-Iranian dual nationals from Tehran’s Evin prison under a prisoner exchange deal between Tehran and Washington, its mission to the United Nations said on Thursday.
“Under the deal mediated by a third country, five Iranians jailed in the United States will be released and Iran’s frozen funds in South Korea will be unblocked and transferred to Qatar,” it said, according to state news agency IRNA.
Five Iranian nationals will be released from US prisons as well.
Earlier, Iran moved five Americans from jail to house arrest, officials and family members said on Thursday, in the first step of a delicate deal.
The next step would be transfer of Iran’s $6bn frozen in South Korea to a special account administered in Qatar
The progress on the prisoners — one of them detained for nearly eight years — comes after quiet, exhaustive diplomacy between the longtime adversaries whose separate talks on restoring a nuclear deal broke down.
Sources familiar with the negotiations said that the next step would be the transfer of $6 billion frozen in South Korea to a special account administered in Qatar which Iran could use for humanitarian purchases such as food and medicine. If all goes as planned, the prisoners could leave Iran sometime in September, one source said.
Four of the prisoners — Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharqi and Morad Tahbaz, and another who preferred to remain anonymous — were taken on Thursday out of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, a day after President Joe Biden’s administration informed their families of a breakthrough in talks.
The four were escorted to a hotel where they will remain held under guard by Iranian officials, a lawyer for one of the prisoners said. Sources said that a fifth American, a woman, was also part of the discussions and had already been moved in recent weeks to house arrest.
“While this is a positive change, we will not rest until Siamak and others are back home; we continue to count the days until this can happen,” Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the US National Security Council called the release to house arrest “an encouraging step” but said Iran should never have arrested the five Americans.
“Of course, we will not rest until they are all back home in the United States,” said the spokeswoman, Adrienne Watson. “Negotiations for their eventual release remain ongoing and are delicate,” she said.
A lawyer for the Namazi family, Jared Genser, also welcomed the step but cautioned: “This is at best the beginning of the end and nothing more.”
Neither government has publicly disclosed details of the impending agreement. But a source said discussions centered on the unblocking of the $6bn in Iranian funds frozen in South Korea.
Tehran earned the money from oil sales but Seoul blocked the funds to comply with US sanctions imposed under former president Donald Trump.
While stressing that the arrangement was not final, the source said Iran would be allowed to use the money administered by Qatar for non-sanctionable trade.
Former president Barack Obama faced criticism from his Republican opponents for sending $400 million in cash as he secured the release of a previous batch of prisoners.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2023