US Agrees to Prisoner Swap With Iran—Plus $6 Billion

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (Getty Images)
August 10, 2023

The United States and Iran reached a deal to free five U.S. citizens imprisoned in Iran, with Tehran receiving in exchange several jailed Iranians and access to around $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue, sources familiar with the deal told the New York Times.

The five imprisoned Iranian-American dual citizens include businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Shargi, 58, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also has British nationality, said Jared Genser, a lawyer who represents Namazi. The two other U.S. citizens' identities have not been made public.

Iran moved the prisoners to house arrest, in what the Times reported is the first step in an agreement that will see them freed.

"The move by Iran of the American hostages from Evin Prison to an expected house arrest is an important development," Genser said in a statement. "While I hope this will be the first step to their ultimate release, this is at best the beginning of the end and nothing more. ... There are simply no guarantees about what happens from here."

Freeing the five would remove a major cause of tension between the United States and Iran as the Biden administration pursues a renewed nuclear deal with the regime. The White House has not confirmed the conditions it agreed to secure the release of the prisoners, but sources familiar with the swap told the Times that nearly $6 billion in assets frozen in South Korea will be freed for Tehran to access.

In February, NBC News reported Washington and Tehran were holding indirect talks exploring a prisoner exchange and the transfer of billions of dollars of Iranian funds in South Korean banks currently blocked by U.S. sanctions. If transferred, those funds could only be spent for humanitarian purposes.

Namazi, who in 2016 was convicted of espionage-related charges the United States has rejected as baseless, has been detained by Iran for more than seven years.

Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for "assembly and collusion against Iran's national security" and working for the United States as a spy. Shargi was convicted of espionage in 2020 and also sentenced to 10 years.

The families of those detained have criticized the Biden administration's slow action in negotiating their freedom.

"I honestly don't understand why the president hasn't called us, why he won't speak with us," Hannah Shargi, the daughter of one of the prisoners, said in May.

The families said they have tried to talk with Biden several times but have not been successful.

"We're three daughters begging for our president to talk to us, to bring our dads home. And I'd like to see that happen," Shargi said.

Reuters reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mark Porter and Lisa Shumaker

Published under: Iran