Five Americans detained in Iran will be freed on Monday as part of a prisoner swap, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The detained U.S. citizens being repatriated include Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, as well as two others who asked that their identity not be made public.
Namazi, 51, is an oil executive and an Iranian-American dual nationalist. He was first detained in 2015 and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison after a conviction on “collaboration with a hostile government” for his ties to the United States.
Shargi, a 58-year-old businessman, was detained without explanation in 2018 and released in 2019 before he was re-arrested in 2020 and handed down a 10-year sentence on an espionage charge.
Tahbaz, 67, is an Iranian-American conservationist who also holds British citizenship. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off on a blanket waiver of U.S. sanctions that paved the way for international banks to allow the transfer of roughly $6 billion in Iran oil revenue in exchange for Iran’s release of the five detained American citizens.
The $6 billion is coming from a restricted account in South Korea, where it was effectively frozen when the U.S. reinstated sanctions against Tehran after former President Donald Trump left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program and will be transferred to Qatar with restrictions on how Iran can spend the funds.
Iran expects to begin receiving its frozen assets on Monday, Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said, adding that “active foreign policy” had led to the funds being unblocked.
“Today this asset will be delivered,” Kanaani said. “It will be invested where needed.”
Five Iranian detainees will also be released from American prisons as part of the deal, Kanaani said.
Republicans blasted the planned swap in the days after the initial announcement.
“The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally. However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America’s adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul said in a statement.
But National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby insisted during a press briefing Wednesday that “Iran will be getting no sanctions relief.”
“It’s Iranian money that had been established in these accounts to allow some trade from foreign countries on things like Iranian oil. … It’s not a blank check. They don’t get to spend it anyway they want. It’s not $6 billion all at once. They will have to make a request for withdrawals for humanitarian purposes only,” he said, adding that there will be “sufficient oversight to make sure that the request is valid.”
The Iranian people will be the beneficiaries of the funds, not the regime, according to Kirby.
Pressed on why the $6 billion needed to be released in addition to the five Iranian prisoners, Kirby said, “This is the deal we were able to strike to secure the release of five Americans.”
“We’re comfortable in the parameters of this deal. I’ve heard the critics that somehow they’re getting the better end of it. Ask the families of those five Americans who’s getting the better end of it and I think you’d get a different answer,” he said.
When asked about Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s claim that the money is “fungible,” Kirby said, “He’s wrong. He’s just flat-out wrong.”
Kirby said the funds in this agreement are “not a payment of any kind” and “not ransom” to secure the release of the Americans, responding to Republican complaints.
“As Chairman of the [Republican Study Committee], we will use all legislative options to reverse this agreement and prevent further ransom payments and sanctions relief to Iran,” Rep. Kevin Hern tweeted Tuesday.
Kanaani, the Iranian spokesperson, said only two of the Iranians who were expected to be released from American prisons were willing to return to Iran.
“Two of [Iranian] citizens will willingly return to Iran based, one person joins his family in a third country, and the other two citizens want to stay in America,” Kanaani said.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.