A report by Reuters noted this Sunday that Iran and the US are on the verge of prisoner swap as soon as next week as $6 billion of frozen Iranian funds is expected to reach Qatar in the coming days.
In a report this Sunday, Reuters News Agency said that Tehran has agreed with Washington on a deal to free five American prisoners in exchange for the transfer of $6 billion of its frozen assets in South Korea to banks in Qatar and the release of a similar number of Iranians detained in the United States.
As the report noted, the timing of the prisoner swap will most likely be as soon as the Iranian frozen money is transferred to Qatar, which sources familiar with the issue told Reuters that it is expected to happen sometime around next week.
The first tangible result of the indirect talks between Tehran and Washington appeared when on Aug. 10, Iran released five U.S. citizens from Tehran’s Evin prison into house arrest as a first step. Later that day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the move the first step of a process that would lead to their return to the United States.
The five prisoners included businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also holds British nationality, the U.S. administration has said. The fourth and fifth prisoners were not identified, but sources inside the US say one of them is a woman. Likewise, the identity of Iranian prisoners who are expected to be swapped by the US is also unknown.
Regarding the release of the frozen Iranian money, however, a spokesperson from the US State Department said that “Washington consented to the movement of Iranian funds from South Korea to restricted accounts held by financial institutions in Qatar, but no money is going to Iran directly, and it will be used only to buy essential goods such as medicine.” The State Department spokesperson also said there had been no change in Washington’s overall approach to Iran, “which continues to be focused on deterrence, pressure and diplomacy.”
Qatar, the perfect mediator between Iran and US
Negotiations over the release of the prisoners as well as the Iranian money held frozen in South Korean banks started months before, with Qatar playing the role of the mediator.
Qatar hosted at least eight rounds of indirect talks between Iranian and American negotiators sitting in separate hotels speaking via shuttle diplomacy, mainly focused on Iran’s nuclear issue and the prisoner as well as Iranian fund releases.
Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment on the details of negotiations, Qatar’s role in the talks or the terms of the final agreement. But as the prisoner swap deal is about to happen, Qatar will likely implement a financial arrangement under which it will pay banking fees and monitor how Iran spends the unfrozen cash to ensure no money is spent on items under US sanctions, and the prisoners will be transited through Qatar.
To conclude its report, Reuters interviewed four Iranian officials, two U.S. sources, a senior Western diplomat, a Gulf government adviser and the person familiar with the negotiations.
Relations between Tehran and Washington, which was moving on the path of de-escalation thanks to the Iran nuclear deal, deteriorated after Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal signed in 2018 between Iran and Western powers, including US itself.