The Biden administration granted a waiver last week allowing banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds to Qatar, with Doha overseeing their allocation.
Iran and the United States have finally executed the long-awaited prisoner swap on Monday in Qatar, where five American were released in exchange for the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian assets.
The detainees arrived to Doha International Airport onboard a Qatar Airways flight on Monday at 5.30pm local time where they were greeted by Qatari officials and US Ambassador to Qatar Timmy Davis.
Standing 100 feet away, the detainees were then taken to American officials who were awaiting to receive the five individuals. They then proceeded to a ministerial lounge at the airport that was closed to the media.
Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, along with Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also holds British nationality were released as part of the landmark Qatari-brokered exchange on Monday.
The identities of the remaining two Americans, one of whom is a woman, remain unclear.
“I give special thanks to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, and to the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, both of whom helped facilitate this agreement over many months of difficult and principled American diplomacy,” Biden said in a statement released as the plane landed in Doha.
Commenting on the milestone achievement, Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said: “We thank our partners who contributed to the success of the US-Iranian agreement, especially the Sultanate.
“We hope that the US-Iranian agreement on the exchange of prisoners will pave the way for more understandings,” he added.
Five Iranian detainees are also expected to be released from the US as part of the deal. They have been named as Kaveh Afrasiabi, 40 year-old Mehrdad Moein Ansari, Amin Hassanzadeh, 46-year-old Iranian-Canadian citizen Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani and 44-year-old dual national Kambiz Attar Kashani.
Earlier reports said US President Joe Biden granted clemency to the five Iranians freed as part of the agreement.
However, only two of the Iranian prisoners will return to Iran, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.
“One of them, as he has family in another country, will be moved to join them in that third country, and apparently two of our citizens imprisoned in the US have said they wish to remain there due to their history of staying there,” Nasser Kanani added.
The two landed at the airport in Doha prior to the arrival of the five detainees from Tehran on Monday.
“Those loved ones are now with us and will fly to dear Iran in a few minutes,” Iran’s Ambassador to Qatar Hamid Dehgani confirmed.
The backbone of the Qatar-mediated deal hinged on the mutual release of prisoners held by both parties and Washington’s unblocking of Iranian assets. As the mediator of the deal, Doha has taken on a crucial role to oversee the transfer the $6 billion worth of Iranian assets to the Islamic Republic where were sent to the Gulf state prior to the arrival of the detainees.
Monday’s milestone achievement is the culmination of more than two years of intricate and delicate negotiations—made even more challenging by the lack of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Washington.
The developments began on 10 August when Iran took initial steps towards a historic exchange by releasing four US citizens from Tehran’s Evin prison and placing them under house arrest, with a fifth individual as a “gesture of goodwill”, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Mediated by the diplomatic prowess of Qatar, Oman, and Switzerland, the accord charts a new course in international relations, anchored in the release of detainees and an avenue for Iran to reclaim access to billions of its frozen assets.
The funds, generated from oil sales, were relocated by the US to a South Korean account during the Trump administration after the US unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal as part of Washington’s “maximum pressure” launched against Iran.
The US sanctions on Iranian banks have significantly limited Iran’s capacity to fund essential humanitarian imports.
Iran’s Ambassador to Qatar at the time, Hamid Reza Dehghani, told Doha News in May 2022 the crushing sanctions have impacted the country’s ability to acquire medicine especially during the Covid-19 global health crisis.
“There are people impacted and children with [cancer] that needed some medicine. Since we were unable to send the money and pay for the medicine, many people died for this reason,” Dehghani told Doha News.
This is despite “exemptions” in the rigid measures for imports of humanitarian goods, Reuters reported.
While some Republican party members have criticised the Biden administration for providing Iran $6 billion, US officials say these funds belong to Iran and confirmed their policies towards Tehran remain unchanged, reports said.
The US slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran on Friday, just days ahead of the prisoner swap.
Washington imposed sanctions on numerous Iranian officials and entities over their alleged involvement in the “violent suppression” of anti-government protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody in Tehran last year, reports said.
Meanwhile, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said his government will decide how it will spend its $6 billion, maintaining that they will be utilised “wherever we need it,” according to exclusive interview with NBC News.
He said Iran would have “authority” over how the funds would be spent.
“This money belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money,” he said, according to an Iranian government translator.
When asked if the money would be utilised for other reasons aside from humanitarian purposes, Raisi said: “Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people needs, so this money will be budgeted for those needs, and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided and determined by the Iranian government.”