In a significant development in international diplomacy, Iran and the United States are set to engage in a carefully orchestrated detainee exchange following the release of $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets. This unprecedented move comes after months of negotiations mediated by Qatar.
Transfer of Frozen Funds:
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanaani, has confirmed that the $6 billion, previously frozen in South Korea, is expected to be in Iran’s possession on Monday. The funds were transferred to accounts in Qatar, paving the way for the detainee swap.
As of now, there has been no immediate public comment from U.S. officials regarding this development.
Qatari Mediation and Detainee Swap:
A reliable source has revealed that Qatar played a pivotal role in this process, overseeing the transfer of all $6 billion from Swiss accounts to Qatar-based bank accounts. Furthermore, a Qatari aircraft is on standby in Iran, ready to transport five soon-to-be-released U.S. citizens and two of their relatives to Doha on Monday morning.
Under the terms of the agreement, the five American detainees with dual nationality will depart Tehran for Doha, and subsequently, they will continue their journey to the United States. In return, five Iranian detainees held in Iran will regain their freedom. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson mentioned that two of these detainees will return to Iran, while two others will remain in the U.S. by their own choice. One detainee is set to reunite with family in a third country.
Resolution of a Long-standing Issue:
This agreement, initially disclosed on August 10, marks a significant step towards resolving a longstanding point of contention between Washington and Tehran. Despite ongoing disagreements on various issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme, regional influence, U.S. sanctions, and military presence in the Gulf, this detainee exchange demonstrates a willingness to address and resolve specific matters of concern.
South Korea’s Involvement:
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has expressed its commitment to facilitating all necessary procedures to ensure the smooth progress of this historic deal.
Among the U.S. dual citizens set to be released are Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, as well as Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist with British nationality. Notably, they were previously released from prison and placed under house arrest.
The identities of the fourth and fifth U.S. citizens under house arrest have not been disclosed, while Iranian officials have named the five Iranians to be released by the U.S. These individuals include Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh, and Kaveh Afrasiabi. While it is confirmed that Afrasiabi will remain in the United States, the fate of the others remains unspecified.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have been simmering since the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 during the presidency of Donald Trump. Reaching a new nuclear deal has proven challenging, with President Joe Biden’s focus turning to the upcoming 2024 U.S. election.
As a crucial step in this complex arrangement, the United States waived sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar. These funds had been blocked in South Korea due to stringent financial sanctions imposed on Tehran, making their transfer impossible.
Under the terms of the agreement, Qatar will oversee the expenditure of Iran’s unfrozen funds, ensuring that they are used exclusively for non-sanctioned humanitarian purposes, such as food and medicine.
The transfer of Iran’s funds has garnered mixed reactions, with U.S. Republicans criticising it as a de facto ransom payment for U.S. citizens. The White House, on the other hand, has defended the deal as a necessary and constructive step in international diplomacy.