The five Americans being held prisoner in Iran arrived home early this morning after having their freedom bought by President Biden for $6billion and the release of five Iranians in the US.
Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and a man and a woman who have not yet been publicly named, touched down at Davison Army Airfield in Virginia on Tuesday morning after flying overnight from Doha.
Their release was part of a ‘humanitarian’ trade with Iran, one of the country’s fiercest adversaries, that involved the unfreezing of $6billion in assets that President Trump seized in 2018.
Biden’s team of negotiators also agreed to release five Iranian men being held in the US, including some who were jailed for selling missile materials from America back to the Iranians.
Siamak Namazi (far right), Morad Tahbaz (middle) and Emad Shargi (left) arrive at Davison Army Airfield, Tuesday, September 19
Family members embrace the freed Americans at the airfield on Tuesday morning. They arrived via private jet from Doha
Some of the men had been in prison in Iran for as long as eight years
Emad Shargi is welcomed home by relatives and friends in Virginia on Tuesday morning
Now the Biden administration is facing tough criticism of the deal, which many say is another example of the US overpaying.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken insisted yesterday that the US would retain ‘absolute control’ over the $6billion in unfrozen funds and insist it was being used on humanitarian goods and not to fund terrorism.
The swap also foreshadows the UN General Assembly.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi says the swap was a ‘step in the direction of humanitarian action between us and America.’
‘It can definitely help in building trust,’ Raisi told journalists. Relatives cheered and cried as the former detainees stepped off the plane this morning.
Tahbaz, left, Chargi, center, and an unidentified male prisoner (far right) who the US is not naming
U.S officials arrange a group photo after freed Americans Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi
A family member embraces freed American Siamak Namazi on the tarmac
‘The whole family went through a lot of ups and downs knowing what he’s going through in prison,’ Hushang Namazi, Siamak’s uncle, said.
‘Then to finally see him come down the plane, I mean no words can describe it.
‘Because really the whole family has been through hell, and praying for this moment. Finally it’s arrived. We’re all so jubilant, that the moment has come.
‘There were so many occasions when we thought that he’s going to be released. And then our hopes were dashed. Finally we realized, no.
‘There’s no point in being happy about the prospects of him being released until he’s really out of the air space of Iran. And this came about. And really it’s — for the whole family — it’s greatest news we could have ever expected,’
He said he hasn’t yet spoken with his nephew since the freed American arrived after midnight.
He added that Siamak is going to have a breakfast with his mother and other immediate family members for the first time in eight years.
Mehrdad Ansari, who was convicted of supplying Iran with materials to be used in missiles, and Reza Sarhangpour, who was convicted of assisting the Central Bank of Iran by supplying it with computer equipment and software, are among those being freed by the US
In a statement issued on his behalf, Namazi said yesterday: ‘I would not be free today, if it wasn´t for all of you who didn´t allow the world to forget me.’
THE FIVE IRANIANS BEING RELEASED AS PART OF BIDEN DEAL
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian charged in 2021 with allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent on Iran’s behalf while lobbying U.S. officials on issues like nuclear policy
Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military gear
Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian and permanent resident of the United States whom prosecutors charged in 2019 with allegedly stealing engineering plans from his employer to send to Iran
Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, an Iranian charged in 2021 over allegedly unlawfully exporting laboratory equipment to Iran; and
Kambiz Attar Kashani, an Iranian-American sentenced in February to 30 months in prison for purchasing ‘sophisticated, top-tier U.S. electronic equipment and software’ through front companies in the United Arab Emirates
‘Thank you for being my voice when I could not speak for myself and for making sure I was heard when I mustered the strength to scream from behind the impenetrable walls of Evin Prison.’
He thanked President Biden for securing his release and ‘putting the lives of American citizens above politics.’
The United States did not immediately identify the other two freed Americans. All were released in exchange for five Iranians in U.S. custody and for the deal over the frozen Iranian assets owed by South Korea. The Biden administration said the five freed Iranians pose no threat to U.S. national security.
Two of the imprisoned Americans’ family members, Effie Namazi and Vida Tahbaz, who had been under travel bans in Iran, also were on the plane.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said two of the Iranian prisoners will stay in the U.S. Meanwhile, Nour News, a website believed to be close to Iran´s security apparatus, said two of the Iranian prisoners were in Doha for the swap.
Nour News identified the two in Doha as: Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian sentenced by the U.S. to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military gear, and Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, an Iranian charged in 2021 over allegedly unlawfully exporting laboratory equipment to Iran.
The $5.9 billion in cash released to Iran represents money South Korea owed Iran – but had not yet paid – for oil purchased before the U.S. imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.
The U.S. maintains that, once in Qatar, the money will be held in restricted accounts to be used only for humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food. Those transactions are currently allowed under American sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic over its advancing nuclear program.
Iranian government officials have largely concurred, though some hard-liners have insisted, without evidence, that there would be no restrictions on how Tehran spends the money.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi says the swap was a ‘step in the direction of humanitarian action between us and America.’ ‘It can definitely help in building trust,’ Raisi told journalists
The deal has already opened Biden to fresh criticism from Republicans and others who say the administration is helping boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to American troops and Middle Eastern allies. That could have implications in his re-election campaign.
Former President Donald Trump, currently the lead Republican challenger in that race, called it an ‘absolutely ridiculous’ deal on the Truth Social social media site. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Biden of ‘rewarding and incentivizing Tehran’s bad behavior.’
Biden held what the White House described as an emotional phone call with the families of the freed Americans after their release.
In his statement, Biden demanded more information on what happened to Bob Levinson, an American who went missing years ago. The Biden administration also announced fresh sanctions on former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.
The U.S. government, the prisoners´ families and activists have denounced the charges against the five Americans as baseless.
The Americans included Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges; Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years; and Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.
In a statement, Sharghi´s sister, Neda, said she ‘can´t wait to hug my brother and never let him go.’
‘This is my brother, not an abstract policy,’ she added. ‘We are talking about human lives. There is nothing partisan about saving the lives of innocent Americans and today should be a moment of American unity as we welcome them home.’
Iran and the U.S. have a history of prisoner swaps dating back to the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis following the Islamic Revolution.