Iran confirms deal with US on prisoner swap, unlocking $10B in frozen assets in South Korea, Iraq

Iran confirms deal with US on prisoner swap, unlocking $10B in frozen assets in South Korea, Iraq

Iranian diplomat in UN confirms 3rd-party mediation but stops short to name country, but sources say hints at Qatar

By Syed Zafar Mehdi

TEHRAN (AA) – Iran late Thursday confirmed the release of American-Iranian dual nationals under a swap deal of releasing five each prisoner with the US, as well as unblocking Tehran’s over $10 billion frozen assets in South Korea and Iraq.

In the first reaction from Iran to the release of American-Iranian dual nationals, the country's UN delegation confirmed the news to state-run news agency IRNA.

Iran's representative to the world body told the news agency that the dual nationals were released from high-security Evin Prison "within the framework of an agreement mediated by a third party" so that the two sides swap five prisoners in question based on forgiveness.

He stopped short of mentioning the name of the country that mediated the prisoner exchange between Tehran and Washington, but sources say it was Qatar.

The report further said the agreement requires the US to facilitate the release of Iran's frozen assets in South Korea, which will be transferred to Qatar and used for humanitarian purposes.

Detailing the agreement, the report said Iran and the US agreed to exchange prisoners and unlock more than $10 billion in frozen Iranian assets in South Korea and Iraq.

The process of releasing a certain amount of Iranian frozen funds in one of the European banks has also begun, the IRNA report stated, adding that the funds in South Korea will be converted to euro.

Also, five Iranian prisoners in the US and five American prisoners will be swapped under the deal.

The prisoners have been transferred to a place other than the prison, but the exchange will not take place until the released funds are deposited into Iranian accounts.

On Thursday evening, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri, confirmed the prisoner swap agreement on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, stating that "the process of releasing billions of dollars of Iranian assets, illegally seized by the US for several years, has commenced."

"Tehran has received the guarantee of Washington's commitments. The release of several Iranians who were illegally detained in America is in this context," he added.

Earlier on Thursday, Western media reported, citing family and a lawyer, that four American-Iranians imprisoned in Iran have been released and transferred to house arrest from Evin Prison.

Christiane Amanpour, a CNN news anchor, also took to social media platform X to announce the release of four Americans, saying they are "now under house arrest," citing a lawyer for one of them.

“The move by Iran of the American hostages from Evin Prison to an expected house arrest is an important development,” she quoted Jared Genser, pro bono counsel to Siamak Namazi as saying.

“While I hope this will be the first step to their ultimate release, this is at best the beginning of the end and nothing more.”

The three men include Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz, while the two prisoners have not been publicly identified.

Speculation had been rife in recent months about a prisoner swap deal between Iran and the US, mediated by Oman and Qatar, with officials of both countries corroborating it.

In March, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced that Iran has reached an agreement with the US to swap prisoners, expressing hope that the exchange would take place soon.

The top Iranian diplomat said the deal was clinched recently between the two sides, ending year-long efforts marked by multiple interruptions and pauses.

The issue of prisoners has been one of the key sticking points in the Vienna talks, with Tehran repeatedly asking that Washington not tie the issue to the nuclear deal.

The Biden administration had over the past two years repeatedly called for the release of dual nationals detained in Iran on spying charges, including Namazi, Shargi, and Tahbaz.

Namazi is an Iranian-American businessman who has been jailed in Iran since 2015. Shargi, also an Iranian-American businessman, has been in an Iranian jail since 2018. Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmentalist who also holds a British passport, was jailed in early 2018.

Iran, for its part, had also demanded the release of its nationals imprisoned in the US, including some Iranian-American dual nationals, mainly for bypassing US sanctions.

It is still not clear whether the US will be releasing all Iranian prisoners lodged in US jails, but the unfreezing of Iranian funds in South Korea seems a certainty.

On Tuesday, the Iranian parliament approved a government bill to refer the case of frozen funds in Seoul for arbitration after President Ebrahim Raisi wrote a letter to parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

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