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Iran, U.S. complete prisoner swap after releasing $6B of frozen Iranian funds

Formerly detained U.S. citizens are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on Monday. The five formerly detained Americans are expected to be transferred to flights back to Washington soon. Photo by Qatar News Agency
Formerly detained U.S. citizens are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on Monday. The five formerly detained Americans are expected to be transferred to flights back to Washington soon. Photo by Qatar News Agency

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Iran has released five U.S. citizens from custody on Monday after the United States agreed to release $6 billion in frozen assets.

The five Americans boarded a plane to Qatar Monday morning, President Joe Biden confirmed in a statement. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the frozen funds "will be delivered" on Monday, cementing the swap which will see each side release five prisoners.

The five Americans include Siamak Namazi, a 51-year-old Iranian-American oil executive first detained in 2015; Emad Shargi a 58-year-old U.S. businessman detained in 2018 and released briefly in 2019, only to be arrested again in 2020 and 67-year-old Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American conservationist with British citizenship, and has been in custody since 2018.

Tahbaz's wife, Vida, and Namazi's mother, Effie, are also on board the plane to Qatar.

Namazi staged a hunger strike in January in a plea to the Biden administration to procure his release. His 85-year-old father Baquer Namazi had been detained prior to his arrest. Baquer Namazi was released in October so he could pursue potentially life-saving medical treatment.

Five U.S. citizens who had been imprisoned in Iran were released on Monday and arrived with their families in Doha, Qatar, as part of a Qatari-mediated prisoner exchange deal between Iran and the United States. Photo by Qatar Foreign Ministry
Five U.S. citizens who had been imprisoned in Iran were released on Monday and arrived with their families in Doha, Qatar, as part of a Qatari-mediated prisoner exchange deal between Iran and the United States. Photo by Qatar Foreign Ministry

The other two Americans set to be released requested that their identities not be shared.

"As we celebrate the return of these Americans, we also remember those who did not return," Biden said. "I call on the Iranian regime to give a full account of what happened to Bob Levinson. The Levinson family deserves answers."

Five U.S. citizens who had been imprisoned in Iran were released on Monday and arrived with their families in Doha, Qatar, as part of a Qatari-mediated prisoner exchange deal between Iran and the United States. Photo by Qatar Foreign Ministry
Five U.S. citizens who had been imprisoned in Iran were released on Monday and arrived with their families in Doha, Qatar, as part of a Qatari-mediated prisoner exchange deal between Iran and the United States. Photo by Qatar Foreign Ministry

The president added that the United States is sanctioning former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence under the Levinson Act for their involvement in wrongful detentions.

Levinson was a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007. The Levinson Act was signed into law in 2020. It codifies the guidelines for the Secretary of State to make determinations on hostage and wrongful detention cases.

A handout image provided by Iran's Nournews Agency shows Mehrdad Moein Ansari (L) and Reza Sarhangpour, two Iranian nationals who were detained in the United States, after their arrival in Doha, Qatar, on Monday. They were released in a prisoner-swap deal with Iran. Photo by Nournews Agency
A handout image provided by Iran's Nournews Agency shows Mehrdad Moein Ansari (L) and Reza Sarhangpour, two Iranian nationals who were detained in the United States, after their arrival in Doha, Qatar, on Monday. They were released in a prisoner-swap deal with Iran. Photo by Nournews Agency

The five Iranians identified as Mahrdad Moein Ansari, Kambiz Attar Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour Kofrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Loftollah Afrasiabi had been detained over sanctions violations, according to state-run Press TV.

Kanaani said two of the detained Iranians would return to Iran, while one would travel to a third country to reunite with his family and the other two would remain in the United States

U.S. citizens Siamak Namazi (L), Emad Sharqi (2L) and Morad Tahbaz (2R) are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on Monday after they were released as part of a a Qatari-mediated prisoner exchange deal between Iran and the United States. Photo by Qatar News Agency
U.S. citizens Siamak Namazi (L), Emad Sharqi (2L) and Morad Tahbaz (2R) are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on Monday after they were released as part of a a Qatari-mediated prisoner exchange deal between Iran and the United States. Photo by Qatar News Agency

The deal comes with the United States unfreezing $6 billion of Iranian oil revenue for humanitarian causes, which will be overseen by Qatar. Those uses include purchases for food, agricultural goods and medicine.

Critics of the deal have said the United States doesn't have the ability to police such requests and transfers, allowing Iran to abuse the details of the agreement.

Roxanne Tahbaz protests outside of the British Foreign Office for the release of her father Morad Tahbaz in 2020. On Monday a prisoner swap to free Tahbaz and four other Americans held by Iran was set to be completed. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE
Roxanne Tahbaz protests outside of the British Foreign Office for the release of her father Morad Tahbaz in 2020. On Monday a prisoner swap to free Tahbaz and four other Americans held by Iran was set to be completed. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said last week that the frozen Iranian funds will be transferred from banks in South Korea to accounts controlled by Qatar, where Iran will have access to them.

National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby insisted that there will be adequate oversight of the funds and rejected charges that the deal amounts to a blank check for Iran.

Formerly detained U.S. citizens are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on Monday. Photo by Qatar News Agency
Formerly detained U.S. citizens are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on Monday. Photo by Qatar News Agency

"It's Iranian money that had been established in these accounts to allow some trade from foreign countries on things like Iranian oil," Kirby said. "They don't get to spend it any way they want. It's not $6 billion all at once. They will have to make a request for withdrawals for humanitarian purposes only."