The Biden administration announced on Monday that it has secured the release of five American citizens who were unjustly detained in Iran, as part of a prisoner swap deal that also involves the release of five Iranian nationals held in the U.S. and the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar.
The five Americans, whose names have not been disclosed, are expected to be free today after spending years in Iranian prisons on charges of espionage, violating sanctions, or other alleged crimes. They include a Navy veteran, a dual citizen, and a journalist. The administration said it was working closely with the Swiss government, which represents U.S. interests in Iran, to ensure their safe and swift return.
The five Iranians, who were also not identified, were detained in the U.S. for violating sanctions or export laws. They will be allowed to leave the country and return to Iran as part of the deal. The administration said it was not granting them any clemency or dropping any charges against them.
The deal also involves the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that had been blocked by U.S. sanctions in South Korea. The funds will be moved to Qatar, where they will be available only for humanitarian trade, such as food, medicine, or other items allowed under U.S. sanctions. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a waiver last week to authorize the transfer without fear of U.S. penalties.
The administration said the deal was a humanitarian gesture that would bring relief to the families of the Americans and Iranians involved, and that it was not linked to the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. However, some critics accused the administration of paying ransom to Iran and rewarding its bad behavior.
The prisoner swap deal comes amid a stalemate in the talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran. The Biden administration has said it is willing to return to the deal if Iran complies with its nuclear obligations, but Iran has demanded that the U.S. lift all sanctions first.