In this photo published August 11, 2022 shows the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of the Exterior. (Iranian Ministry of the Exterior, via AP Archives)

U.S., Iran to Exchange Prisoners

VOA Learning English • voa
Sept. 18, 2023 4 minSource

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that seven Americans have been released by Iran after the nations agreed to a prisoner exchange also involving Qatar and South Korea.

South Korea said on Monday it is working with the United States and Iran to release restrictions on $6 billion of frozen Iranian money. The U.S. is releasing the money as part of the prisoner exchange.

The money is being transferred to Qatar. Then, seven people with dual U.S. citizenship, who have been imprisoned or detained in Iran, are expected to leave Tehran for Doha. Officials told Reuters news service that, from there, they will travel to the United States. Qatar mediated the deal during months of talks.

In return, five Iranians detained in the U.S. will be released so they can travel to Iran. Iranian officials and Iran's state news agency have said one of those detainees is expected to remain in the United States.

The exact timing of the transfer of the money has yet to be announced.

The deal was first made public on August 10. But the countries continue to disagree on many issues. They include Iran's nuclear program, Iran’s effort to influence the Persian Gulf area, U.S. sanctions and America's military presence in the Persian Gulf.

South Korea is “currently making efforts to ensure smooth progress of all procedures so that it will be resolved once and for all," the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The U.S. dual citizens to be released include 51-year-old Siamak Namazi and 59-year-old Emad Sharqi, both businessmen, and 67-year-old Morad Tahbaz, an environmentalist. Tahbaz also holds British nationality. Iran released them from prison and put them under house arrest last month.

A fourth U.S. citizen was also released into house arrest, while a fifth was already under house arrest. Their identities have not been released.

Iranian officials named the five Iranians to be released by the U.S. as: Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi. Two Iranian officials said Afrasiabi would remain in the United States.

As a first step in the deal, the United States suspended sanctions to permit the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar. The money had been blocked in South Korea, which is normally one of Iran's largest oil buyers, because of U.S. sanctions.

Under the agreement, Qatar agreed to monitor how Iran uses the money to ensure it goes to non-sanctioned humanitarian goods, like food and medicine.

The transfer of Iran's money has faced criticism from U.S. lawmakers including opposition Republican Party members. They said the deal is equal to paying a ransom for U.S. citizens. The administration of President Joe Biden has defended the deal.

Qatar held at least eight sets of talks involving Iranian and U.S. negotiators. The negotiators worked from separate hotels. People told Reuters that they exchanged proposals through Qatari mediators. Earlier talks dealt mainly with the nuclear issue. Later, talks turned to the prisoner releases.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Hyonhee Shin reported this story for Reuters. Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English.

Words in This Story

transfer –v. to move something from one place to another

dual — adj. having qualities of two different things

mediate — v. to aid negotiations between sides opposing sides in an effort to reach an agreement

sanction n. measures taken against a country or individual aimed at making them observe local or international law usually in the form of economic restrictions

monitor –v. to watch or observe for a special purpose over a long period of time

ransom — n. money that is paid to free someone who has been captured or kidnapped

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