Freed US prisoners on flight home after swap with Iran as Tehran's assets unfrozen, officials say

The billions of dollars in South Korea is what Seoul had intended to pay Iran for oil until the U.S. issued sanctions in 2019.

Published: September 18, 2023 7:35am

Updated: September 18, 2023 9:16am

Five Americans were freed and left Iran on Monday as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States after Washington unfroze $6 billion in Tehran's assets as part of the planned swap, officials said.

The five Americans include Siamak Namazi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges; venture capitalist Emad Sharghi, who was also sentenced to 10 years for espionage charges; and British-American conservationist Morad Tahbaz, who is of Iranian descent and was sentenced to 10 years for being in contact with the U.S. The other two individuals asked to remain anonymous. 

In addition to the five freed Americans, two other Iranian Americans, Namazi's mother and Tahbaz's wife, were also on the plane out of the Islamic Republic, a Biden administration official said, according to Axios.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said during a news conference Monday that Iran hopes "to receive our assets from South Korea today," and the assets "will be available to Iran in their entirety," according to state media

The assets were released after the Trump administration had sanctioned oil purchases from Iran. The money in South Korea, which could be up to $7 billion, is what Seoul had intended to pay Iran for oil until the U.S. issued sanctions in 2019, according to The Associated Press.

Two of the Iranian prisoners freed by the U.S. are expected to stay in America, Kanaani also said.

The five Iranian-Americans released were placed on house arrest last month.

The five Iranians released by the U.S. include Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi, Reuters reported, citing Iranian officials.

The planned exchange comes as Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, even amid tensions between the U.S. and Iran over Tehran's near-weapons-grade uranium enrichment.

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