Iran-U.S. Complete Historic Prisoner Exchange

Diplomacy Triumphs as Ten Lives and Billions in Frozen Funds Find Resolution
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Diplomacy Triumphs as Ten Lives and Billions in Frozen Funds Find Resolution

In a significant diplomatic milestone, Iran and the United States have successfully completed a long-awaited prisoner exchange, highlighting the potential for diplomatic solutions to complex international issues. After two years of arduous indirect negotiations mediated by Qatar and Oman, Tehran and Washington exchanged five American and five Iranian prisoners at an airport in Doha on Monday.

This exchange also involved the release of $6 billion of Iran’s own funds, which had been frozen for years in South Korea due to unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed after the United States withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018. Following a waiver issued by the U.S., the money was converted into euros and transferred to banks in Qatar via Switzerland, facilitating this crucial step in improving diplomatic relations.

Among the Iranian prisoners held in Iran, three have been identified: Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morah Tahbaz, all of whom faced espionage-related charges. Tehran consistently referred to them as “spies” while Washington referred to them as “hostages.”

Conversely, most Iranian prisoners in the U.S. faced charges related to violating sanctions, with Tehran characterizing them as “businessmen” unfairly detained due to U.S. sanctions they deemed unlawful.

Despite the differing rhetoric surrounding these prisoners, Iran’s political landscape and media outlets largely viewed this exchange as an achievement in diplomacy. The ultraconservative newspaper Keyhan’s headline, “America Kneels Before Iran,” emphasized the transfer of Iran’s blocked reserves in South Korea as a diplomatic success under President Ebrahim Raisi’s leadership.

The reformist Shargh newspaper described the exchange as a “positive diplomatic step,” while the conservative Quds newspaper celebrated it as a “Diplomatic Hat-Trick,” combining the exchange with President Raisi’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly and the arrival of Saudi football teams and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in Tehran.

In New York, President Raisi suggested that the prisoner exchange, which Iran has consistently framed as a humanitarian issue, could have occurred sooner with different U.S. actions. He referenced protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody on September 22, insinuating U.S. involvement in the unrest.

Following the prisoner exchange, Iran’s foreign ministry released a statement emphasizing that while this event marked a positive development, past grievances, including ongoing U.S. sanctions, would not be forgotten. The statement highlighted the impact of U.S. actions on Iran’s access to its own funds during the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing the importance of humanitarian concerns.