Five detainees from each side were released in exchange for the unblocking of $6 billion in funds belonging to the Islamic Republic.
Qatar voiced optimism following a landmark Iran-US prisoner swap in Doha on Monday which could be a crucial catalyst for advancement in relations between the long-standing adversaries.
The swap, which saw detainees from both nations return home, has raised expectations for a revival of diplomatic ties and the resurrection of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the nuclear deal.
The remarks were made by Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al Khulaifi just moments after the swap was executed at Doha International Airport, according to Qatar News Agency.
In a statement, Qatar’s ministry of foreign affairs said Al Khulaifi expressed “Qatar’s hope that the full implementation of the agreement between the United States and Iran will lead to greater understandings that include return to the joint and inclusive action plan.”
Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani also conveyed his appreciation for the implementation of the Iran-US prisoner exchange on his X platform, previously known as Twitter.
“With the entry into force of the US-Iranian prisoner exchange agreement, we thank both parties to the agreement, hoping that it will pave the way for further understandings,” he wrote on Monday.
“We also thank our partners who contributed to its success, especially the Sultanate of Oman, and we affirm that Qatar continues to contribute to everything that will enhance the security of the region and the world.”
Earlier, five detainees from each side were released in exchange for the unblocking of $6 billion in funds belonging to the Islamic Republic that were previously held in South Korea.
Qatar’s confirmed receipt of the funds triggered the prisoner swap at Doha airport on Monday afternoon. Now, the Gulf state is responsible for supervising the allocation and utilisation of these funds.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Qatar foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said his country was exceptionally well-positioned to facilitate negotiations between Washington and Tehran.
“I think the trust has been built,” he noted, in reference to the US designating Qatar as a major non-NATO ally the previous year.
“Working relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran on various topics has made Qatar to be a very suitable mediator on [the prisoner swap] and we are hopeful that it will it will be only the start of our role in mediating between the two sides,” Al Ansari added.
Five US citizens flew out of Iran on Monday onboard a Qatari charter flight as part of a much-awaited prisoner swap deal between Tehran and Washington. One they arrived around 5:30 PM (local time), they were greeted by Qatari officials, as well as US ambassador to Qatar and Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi called the release of the American detainees “purely a humanitarian action.”
“It can certainly be a step based upon which in the future other humanitarian actions can be taken,” Raisi told reporters after his arrival in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
Last week, the Iranian president said his government will decide how it will spend its $6 billion, maintaining that they will be utilised “wherever we need it.”
“[It] belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money,” Raisi said in the interview with NBC Nightly News.
Also on Monday, two Iranian nationals, Mehrdad Moein Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, were released by the US and arrived in Qatar before returning safely back home, according to Iran’s Press TV.
Regarding this move, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and lead negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani expressed his thrill at the return of the Iranian detainees back to their loved ones: “We are extremely happy for the release of five Iranians who were imprisoned by the US for alleged evading of unlawful and inhuman US sanctions. We congrats their return to their loved ones.”
While international media focused on the moments exchanged between American detainees as they landed in Qatar, Iran’s envoy to Qatar received the Iranian detainees in another room around the same time the Americans arrived.
“Those loved ones are now with us and will fly to dear Iran in a few minutes,” Ambassador Hamid Reza Dehghani said on his Twitter at 6:03 PM (local time), where he also welcomed the Iranian detainees.
Iranian media did however step in to capture moments in which the Iranian detainees reunited with the families, as per videos shared by Iran’s news agency.
Bagheri Kani further extended his country’s appreciation to Qatar for its heavy mediation role in the lenghty process.
“We thank both Qatar and Oman for their important roles in facilitating the process that led to the release of Iranian citizens.”
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden thanked Qatar, Oman, Switzerland, and South Korea for their involvement in facilitating the negotiations for the prisoner exchange with Iran.
“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.
The White House released the statement as the five released American detainees landed in the Gulf country. However, the major event came against the backdrop of provocative moves from Washington, which slapped new sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
On the same day, reports said Biden intends to enact fresh sanctions against Iran’s intelligence ministry and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
An Al Jazeera correspondent described the move from Washington as a message signaling “this is still very much an adversarial relationship,” even though organisations like the United Nations voiced hope for an easing of tensions between the decades-old foes after the prisoner exchange.
“We very much hope that it leads to greater cooperation and a lessening of tensions,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The US also slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran on Friday, just days ahead of the prisoner swap, targeting 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.
The already-enacted US sanctions on Iranian banks have significantly limited Iran’s capacity to fund essential humanitarian imports, with Human Rights Watch pointing to dire implications for the health of Iranians and their ability to obtain necessary medicines and has led to documented shortages.
Iran’s Ambassador to Qatar, 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.
Separately, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has minimised expectations that the prisoner swap may result in a significant breakthrough in the attempts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Speaking to reporters, Blinken emphasised the talks over the prisoner exchange have always been “a separate track” from plans to return to the nuclear deal, an accord former US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in 2018.
“We’re not engaged on that, but we’ll see in the future if there are opportunities,” Blinken said. “I wouldn’t anticipate anything this week. We’re focused today on the fact that these Americans are now free after having endured something that I think most of us can’t possibly imagine.”