Five Americans who were detained in Iran were released this Monday, heading from Qatar to the United States. The ball is now in the US court to fulfill its commitment to Iran.
This Monday, and after many rounds of indirect talks between the US and Iran, the first real step on prisoner swap deal between the two took place and Iran released five of the US detainees.
After initially stopping in Doha, Qatar, the five Americans are now on their way back to the United States, according to a US official and a source familiar with the matter. The five, all of whom had been designated as wrongfully detained, were freed as part of a wider deal that includes the US unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian funds.
Three of the five Americans include Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi, who had all been imprisoned for more than five years. The identities of the other two US nationals are unknown to the media.
Minutes after the release of the American detainees, the office of the US President Joe Biden issued a statement, celebrating the news. “Today, after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” Biden wrote in the statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke with the Americans freed from Iran when they landed in Doha in what he called “an emotional conversation.”
“Today, their freedom, the freedom of these Americans for so long unjustly imprisoned and detained in Iran means some pretty basic things: it means that husbands and wives, fathers and children, grandparents can hug each other again, can see each other again, can be with each other again,” Blinken said.
They also spoke with Biden by phone, who told them that “he started the effort to free these Americans when he first took office and wishes that it could have been brought to this happy conclusion earlier but he’s very happy it got there today,”
Still hostile towards Iran, even after showing goodwill
Despite the deal was an accomplishment of diplomacy over animosity, the US still didn’t hesitate to show its hostility towards Iran, even hours after the release of the five American detainees.
In this regard, a senior Biden administration official said the deal “has not changed our relationship with Iran in any way,” noting the US would still work to hold Iran accountable for what he described as “Iran’s human rights abuses and to constrain its nuclear program”.
Likewise, Biden himself said in his statement that the deal does not mean the US approach to Iran is changing. “I thank partners at home and abroad for their tireless efforts to help us achieve this outcome, including the Governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland, and South Korea,” Biden also noted.
But even despite this harsh language against Iran, many Republicans in Congress still rebuke Biden for the deal with Iran and accuse him of “ransom payment.”
US issues new sanctions on Tehran hours after prisoners’ swap
Hours after the release of the five Americans, the US issued new sanctions against Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and the country’s former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a senior administration officials said.
Responding Iran’s show of goodwill with a series of new sanctions, the Biden administration said that the sanctions were to punish Iran for a lack of answers around Bob Levinson, an American citizen the US claims to have been detained in Iran for more than a decade. “We’ll never give up on Bob Levinson’s case,” a US senior administration official said.