Five Americans who were jailed in Iran for years have landed back in the U.S. after a controversial prisoner swap.
There were five Iranians who were also released from U.S. custody as part of the deal, and of those five, three have chosen to not return to Iran. Also part of the deal, $6 billion (£4.8 billion) in Iranian currency that was being held in South Korea was sent to banks in Doha.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi suggested that Monday’s exchange could be “a step in the direction of a humanitarian action between us and America,” according to The Associated Press.
Americans back home
The plane carrying the five Americans landed a little before 5:30 local time at Davison Army Airfield where they had a tearful reunion with family and friends on the tarmac.
“The nightmare is finally over,” a relative of Siamak Namazi, one of the freed Americans, told BBC. “We haven’t had this moment in over eight years. It’s unbelievable.”
The American prisoners include 51-year-old businessman Siamak Namazi, who has spent close to eight years in Tehran’s Evin prison. Emad Shargi, 59, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, who had British citizenship as well, were also released. The other two prisoners did not wish to be named.
During remarks from Fort Belvoir, Carstens emphasized his confidence in being able to fight to bring more Americans home. U.S. officials maintain that the five prisoners were wrongfully imprisoned for political leverage.
President Joe Biden welcomed the prisoner swap and said, in a statement on Monday, that the Americans would be reunited with their loved ones, “after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering.”
Biden also vowed to continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region. He also used the prisoners' return as a reminder to other citizens of the dangers of traveling to Iran and urged American passport holders not to travel there.
“[I] would not be free today, if it wasn’t for all of you who didn’t allow the world to forget me,” Siamak Namazi said in a statement, according to BBC. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you. 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.”
The Iranian funds that were released as part of the deal were owed by South Korea to Tehran for oil bought before those types of transactions were banned by the Trump administration sanctions in 2019.
According to the U.S., the released funds can only be used for humanitarian purposes. A senior administration official told reporters that the U.S. will move to block the funds if Iran tries to use the funds for more than anything other than humanitarian purposes.
The return of the money has not only sparked controversy but also caused Biden to face intense criticism from political opponents. There have been several Republicans who have expressed concerns that Iran will use the money to back proxy groups in the Middle East.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said last week that the U.S. treasury department has “strict oversight” on the money and that Washington “has the ability to police their use.”