Five US prisoners freed by Iran land in Qatar following prison swap
The five US prisoners released by Iran today as part of a controversial prisoner swap have arrived in Doha to begin their journey back to America. The prisoners were flown first from Tehran to Doha on a Qatar Airways jet today. They were greeted on the tarmac at Doha Airport by the US Ambassador to Qatar, Timmy Davis. Only three of the five released US prisoners have been named publicly. They are businessmen Siamak Namazi , 51, and Emad Shargi, 59, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British citizenship.
The other two prisoners – a man and a woman – have requested anonymity, according to a statement released by President Biden this morning, but they were seen being comforted by Davis on the tarmac at Doha. All had been imprisoned in Iran on what the Biden administration says are unsubstantiated spying charges.
In a statement released by his attorney today after his release, Namazi – who had been in prison for eight years – thanked Biden for putting ‘the lives of American citizens above politics’. While they celebrate their newfound freedom, Republicans are lining up to slam the deal, that included the release of five Iranians from US custody – including two who now say they will stay in the US. Pictured: Morad Tahbaz (left) Siamak Namazi , 51, (hugging a Qatari official, right) and Emad Shargi, (not pictured) arrive in Doha along with an unidentified woman (far right).
Among the Iranian prisoners is Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, a dual US-Iranian citizen who was jailed in February for supplying the Central Bank of Tehran with computer equipment and technology through a front company in the UAE, and, who was caught obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles and electronic warfare. The deal has been widely criticized by Republicans who say Biden is paying ransom to terrorists by releasing the men and the funds, which were frozen in South Korea in 2018 by President Donald Trump.
The Biden administration insists there are ‘guardrails’ on what Iran can spend the money on, but critics are now demanding to know how he or his administration will police how it is used. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi however said this week that Iran would decide how the money would be spent.
Trump was among the first to criticize the agreement when details of it became public on 9/11, an ill-timed announcement that was widely panned. A female prisoner is also being released along with a fourth, unnamed male. Namazi has been in prison since 2015, when he was arrested during a business trip and convicted of cooperating with a hostile government – the US. Shargi was arrested with his wife in 2018 on unsubstantiated espionage charges. She was later allowed to return to the US.
Tahbaz was also convicted of spying charges. He was left out of a previous prisoner swap brokered by former British Prime Minister Liz Truss. But they remain deeply divided on other issues ranging from Iran ‘s nuclear program and its influence around the region to U.S. sanctions and America’s military presence in the Gulf. Qatar , a tiny but hugely wealthy Gulf Arab energy producer, has sought to raise its global profile, hosting the soccer World Cup last year and carving out a role in international diplomacy.
The Sunni Muslim nation hosts a big U.S. military base but has also forged close ties with Shi’ite Muslim Iran. Doha hosted at least eight rounds of talks with Iranian and U.S. negotiators sitting in separate hotels, speaking via shuttle diplomacy, a source previously told Reuters.
Under the agreement, Doha agreed to monitor how Iran spends the unfrozen funds to ensure the cash is spent on humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine, and not any items under U.S. sanctions. The transfer of Iran’s funds has drawn criticism from U.S. Republicans who say President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is in effect paying a ransom for U.S. citizens.
The White House has defended the deal. Ties between Washington and Tehran have been boiling since Donald Trump , a Republican, pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear deal between Iran and global powers when he was president in 2018. Reaching another nuclear deal has gained little traction since, as Biden prepares for the 2024 U.S. election.
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