NEW YORK: A plane carrying five Americans freed by Iran landed in the US today, a day after they were swapped for the release of five Iranians held in the US and the unfreezing of US$6 billion in Iranian funds, in a deal between the arch-enemies.
CNN reported the plane had landed. The report not did provide further details.
It followed a carefully choreographed exchange, agreed upon after months of Qatar-mediated talks, that was triggered yesterday when the funds that had been blocked in South Korea were wired, via Switzerland, to banks in Doha.
After the transfer was confirmed, the five US prisoners plus two relatives took off on a Qatari plane from Tehran, at the same time as two of the five Iranian detainees landed in Doha on their way home. Three Iranians chose not to go to Iran.
The deal removes a point of friction between the US, which brands Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which calls Washington the “Great Satan”.
But it is unclear whether it will bring the two adversaries, which have been at odds for 40 years, closer on any other issues, such as Iran’s nuclear programme and its backing for regional militias, or the US military’s presence in the Gulf and US sanctions.
The freed Americans include US-Iranian dual citizens Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British nationality. The two other Americans have not been publicly identified.
US president Joe Biden welcomed the return of the prisoners home in a statement yesterday but his administration also announced fresh US sanctions.
“We will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region,” he said.
Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, who was in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly, called the swap a humanitarian action. “It can certainly be a step based upon which in the future other humanitarian actions can be taken,” he added.
Relations between the US and Iran have been especially bitter since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and toughened US sanctions.
Washington suspects Tehran’s nuclear programme may be aimed at developing nuclear arms, a charge Iran denies.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken left the door open to nuclear diplomacy, but suggested nothing was imminent.
US analysts were skeptical about prospects for progress.
“The prisoner swap does likely pave the way for additional diplomacy around the nuclear programme this fall, although the prospect for actually reaching a deal is very remote,” said Henry Rome of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.