An aircraft carrying five Americans who were swapped for five Iranians detained in the United States and $6 billion in unfrozen assets is on its way to the United States.
The prisoner exchange, agreed after months of Qatar-mediated talks, was made possible on September 18 after the funds that had been blocked in South Korea were transferred to banks in Doha.
The five US prisoners took off on a Qatari aircraft from Tehran, at the same time as two of the five Iranian detainees landed in Doha on their way to Iran. Three Iranians freed by the United States chose not to go to Iran.
The plane taking the Americans to the United States took off from Doha later on September 18.
The five “innocent” Americans “will soon be reunited with their loved ones - after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement timed with their arrival in Qatar.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called the swap deal "a step in the direction of a humanitarian action between us and America" that could "definitely help in building trust."
Under the swap deal, the unfrozen funds will be kept in accounts in Qatar and will only be able to be used for humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food, the United States has said.
Western governments have repeatedly accused the Islamic Republic of taking dual and foreign nationals hostage for the sole purpose of using them in prisoner swaps or as a bargaining chip in international negotiations.
In a statement issued on his behalf, Siamak Namazi, one of the freed Americans, decried the Islamic Republic’s “vile path to profit” of holding foreigners hostage.
“Over the past 44 years, the Iranian regime has mastered the nasty game of caging innocent Americans and other foreign nationals, and commercialising their freedom,” he said, calling Tehran’s Evin prison a “dystopian United Nations of Hostages.”
Besides Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges, the released Americans also include Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years, and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.
The two other prisoners have not been identified.
The five individuals in US custody whom Tehran wants handed over as part of the agreement include Mehrdad Ansari, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani and Kambiz Attar Kashani, who were charged with illegally obtaining advanced or potential dual-use technology thought to be bound for Iran that has been under tightly reimposed US sanctions since 2018. The two others are Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi and Amin Hasanzadeh, who were imprisoned for failing to register as foreign agents and stealing engineering plans on behalf of Iran, respectively.