Americans held in Iran return home after being traded for $6 billion and five Iranian prisoners – including two who want to stay in the US
The five Americans held captive in Iran arrived home early this morning after President Biden purchased their freedom for $6 billion and the release of five Iranians in the US.
Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and a man and a woman who have not yet been publicly named landed at Davison Army Airfield in Virginia on Tuesday morning after an overnight flight from Doha.
Their release was part of a “humanitarian” trade with Iran, one of the country’s fiercest adversaries, that involved the release of $6 billion in assets seized by President Trump in 2018.
Siamak Namazi (far right), Morad Tahbaz (center) and Emad Shargi (left) arrive at Davison Army Airfield on Tuesday, September 19
Family members hug the released Americans at the airport Tuesday morning. They arrived by private jet from Doha
Some men had already been in prison in Iran for eight years
Emad Shargi is welcomed home by family and friends in Virginia on Tuesday morning
Biden’s team of negotiators also agreed to release five Iranian men held in the US, including some imprisoned for selling missile material from America back to the Iranians.
Now the Biden administration is facing harsh criticism over the deal, which many say is another example of the US paying too much.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken yesterday stressed that the US would maintain “absolute control” of the $6 billion in unfrozen funds, stressing that they would be used for humanitarian goods and not for terrorist financing.
The exchange is also a precursor to the UN General Assembly.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the exchange was a “step toward humanitarian action between us and America.”
“It can certainly help build trust,” Raisi told reporters.
Family members cheered and cried as the former prisoners stepped off the plane this morning.
Tahbaz, left, Chargi, center, and an unidentified male prisoner (far right) whom the US is not naming
US officials arrange a group photo after Americans Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi are released
A family member hugs the freed American Siamak Namazi on the asphalt
“The whole family has been through a lot of ups and downs knowing what he’s going through in prison.
“To finally see him come off the plane, I mean there are no words.
‘Because basically the whole family has been through hell and praying for this moment. The time has finally come. We are all so happy that the moment has arrived.
‘There were so many times when we thought he was going to be released. And then our hopes were dashed. Finally we realized: no. There is no point in rejoicing at the prospects of him being released until he is truly out of Iran’s airspace. And this happened. And actually – for the whole family – it is the best news we could ever expect,” said Hushang Namazi, Siamak’s uncle.
He said he has not spoken to his cousin since the freed American arrived after midnight. He added that Siamak will have breakfast with his mother and other immediate family members for the first time in eight years.
Mehrdad Ansari, who was convicted of supplying material to Iran for use in missiles, and Reza Sarhangpour, who was convicted of assisting the Central Bank of Iran by supplying it with computer equipment and software, are among those charged by the US has been released.
In a statement on his behalf yesterday, Namazi said: “I wouldn’t be free today, if you all hadn’t allowed the world to forget me.”
THE FIVE IRANIANS ARE RELEASED AS PART OF THE BIDEN DEAL
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian charged in 2021 with failing to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Iran while lobbying US officials on issues such as nuclear policy
Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian who was sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military equipment
Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian and permanent resident of the United States who was accused by prosecutors in 2019 of stealing technical plans from his employer to send to Iran
Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, an Iranian who was indicted in 2021 for allegedly unlawfully exporting laboratory equipment to Iran; And
Kambiz Attar Kashani, an Iranian-American who was sentenced to 30 months in prison in February for purchasing “advanced, high-quality American electronic equipment and software” through front companies in the United Arab Emirates
“Thank you for being my voice when I couldn’t speak for myself and for making sure I was heard when I mustered the strength to scream from behind the impenetrable walls of Evin Prison.”
He thanked President Biden for securing his release and “putting the lives of American citizens before politics.”
The United States did not immediately identify the other two freed Americans. All were released in exchange for five Iranians in US custody and for the deal on frozen Iranian assets owed to South Korea. The Biden administration said the five freed Iranians do not pose a threat to U.S. national security.
Two relatives of the captured Americans, Effie Namazi and Vida Tahbaz, who were banned from traveling in Iran, were also on the plane.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said two of the Iranian detainees will remain in the US. Meanwhile, Nour News, a website believed to be close to Iran’s security apparatus, said two of the Iranian prisoners were in Doha for the swap.
Nour News identified the two in Doha as: Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian sentenced to 63 months in prison by the US in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military equipment, and Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, an Iranian who was indicted in 2021 for allegedly unlawfully exporting laboratory equipment to Iran.
The $5.9 billion in cash released to Iran represents money South Korea owed Iran — but had not yet paid — for oil purchased before the U.S. imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.
The US claims that once in Qatar, the money will be kept in restricted accounts and used only for humanitarian goods such as medicine and food. These transactions are currently permitted under US sanctions against the Islamic Republic due to its advancing nuclear program.
Iranian government officials largely agree, although some hardliners have insisted without evidence that there would be no restrictions on how Tehran spends the money.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the exchange was a “step toward humanitarian action between us and America.” “It can certainly help build trust,” Raisi told reporters
The deal has already opened Biden up to new criticism from Republicans and others who say the administration is helping boost Iran’s economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to U.S. forces and Middle Eastern allies. That could have consequences for his re-election campaign.
Former President Donald Trump, currently the leading Republican challenger in that race, called it an “absolutely ridiculous” deal on the social media site Truth Social. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Biden of “rewarding and encouraging Tehran’s bad behavior.”
Biden made what the White House described as an emotional phone call with the families of the freed Americans after their release.
In his statement, Biden demanded more information about what happened to Bob Levinson, an American who went missing years ago. The Biden administration also announced new sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.
The US government, the detainees’ families and activists have described the charges against the five Americans as unfounded.
The Americans included Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges; Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to ten years; and Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also jailed for 10 years.
In a statement, Sharghi’s sister, Neda, said she “can’t wait to hug my brother and never let him go.”
“This is my brother, not an abstract policy,” she added. ‘We are talking about human lives. There is nothing partisan about saving the lives of innocent Americans and today should be a moment of American unity as we welcome them home.”
Iran and the US have a history of prisoner swaps dating back to the 1979 takeover of the US embassy and the hostage crisis after the Islamic Revolution.