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‘Beginning of the end of their nightmare’: 5 Americans jailed by Iran moved to house arrest in first step of US/Iran prisoner deal
“My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today of five Americans moved from prison in Iran to house arrest.
Five Americans were moved from Iran’s Evin prison and put under looser house arrest at a Tehran hotel today, in the first step of a deal that both the United States and Iran say could lead to their return to the United States in the coming weeks.
“This is a positive step,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today (Aug. 10). “But I don’t want to get ahead of its conclusion because there’s more work to be done to actually bring them home.”
“My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare, and the nightmare that their families have experienced,” Blinken said.
Under the deal struck, the five American hostages, including Iranian Americans Siamak Namazi, who has been imprisoned in Evin for eight years; Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi, as well as two others who do not wish to be named, would be freed in exchange for the transfer of Iran oil revenue in a bank account in South Korea to a bank in Doha, Qatar. There, the monies can be used for non-sanctioned humanitarian purchases, such as food and medicine, in transactions which the U.S. Treasury Department will have visibility into, US officials said.
Iran said the release of the Americans to house arrest is a significant initial step, suggesting their return to the United States would only happen after verification of the transfer of funds.
“As part of a humanitarian cooperation agreement mediated by a third-party government, Iran and the U.S. have agreed to reciprocally release and pardon five prisoners,” Iran’s mission to the UN said. “The transfer of these prisoners to out of prison marks a significant initial step in the implementation of this agreement.”
That transfer of funds from South Korea to Doha could take up to a month, a senior U.S. administration official said.
This is not sanctions relief, Blinken said. “Iran’s own funds would be used and transferred to restricted accounts, such that monies can only be used for humanitarian purposes,” which is permitted under U.S. sanctions on Iran, Blinken said. “We will continue to enforce all our sanctions…. These are entirely separate tracks.”
The U.S. government spoke with the Americans today, Blinken said.
“They’re, needless to say, very happy to be out of prison,” Blinken said. “But we want to make sure we complete this process and bring them home to their families.”
“We have received confirmation that Iran has released from prison five Americans who were unjustly detained and has placed them under house arrest,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said. “While this is an encouraging step, these U.S. citizens…should never have been detained in the first place.
“We will not rest until they are all back home in the United States,” Watson’s statement continued. “Until that time, negotiations for their release remain ongoing and are delicate. We will, therefore, have little in the way of details to provide about the state of their house arrest or about our arrests to secure their freedom.”
Experts on the negotiations rejected criticism of the deal as misinformed or disingenuous.
“The Biden administration is merely conforming its policy to existing U.S. sanctions laws that exempt humanitarian trade,” Ali Vaez, director of the Iran program at the International Crisis Group, said. “Iran should have been able to use its restricted assets abroad to buy food and medicine all along. The reason it wasn’t is overcompliance by international banks, which fret over falling afoul of Washington’s complex sanctions regime.”
A western official familiar with the deal explained: All we’re doing is moving the money from Korea, where it’s not accessible, to Doha, where it will be in a bank, that U.S. Treasury has full oversight and transparency into, to be spent on non-sanctioned trade, like medicine and food.
We’re bringing five Americans home. This is totally defensible deal, he said.
The money is going into a bank in Doha, and one reason it has taken time, is that Treasury has worked out an arrangement so that the U.S. is going to know what the money is spent on, he said. So it may take a month or so to get the Americans home.
The Biden administration informed families of the detained Americans yesterday afternoon that it expected and had confirmed they would be moved from prison to house arrest, Jared Genser, a pro bono lawyer for the family of Siamak Namazi said. It is expected that at least four of the Americans will be held at a hotel under Iranian guard, which should enable them to spend time with each other and make calls to their families, he said.
“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,” Genser said in a press statement. “But there are simply no guarantees about what happens from here.”
“We are grateful that Siamak and the other Americans in Iran are out of Evin Prison and under house arrest,” Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother, said. “While this is a positive change, we will not rest until Siamak and others are back home…We have suffered tremendously and indescribably for eight horrific years, and wish only to be reunited again as a family.”
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