Five US-Iranian dual citizens who were freed in a prisoner-swap deal with Iran landed in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Monday.
Their release was part of a deal which saw five Iranians released from US prisons. Two of those Iranians also landed in Doha, en route to Tehran. Two others have opted to stay in the US and one will settle in a third country.
Qatari and US officials and family members welcomed the five released prisoners from Tehran when they left the aircraft before resuming their journey to Washington.
Welcoming the exchange, US president Joe Biden said: “Today five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home.” Freed detainee Siamak Namazi praised Mr Biden for putting “Americans before politics”.
The swap was mediated by Qatar, Oman and Switzerland. Under their agreement, the US is allowing Iran to access $6 billion (€4.8 billion) in oil money that was frozen in South Korean banks due to sanctions.
The five released by Iran were: Mr Namazii (52), a businessman who had been held since 2015; environmentalist Morad Tahbaz (67), who was arrested in 2018; businessman Emad Shargi (59), who was jailed by Iran in 2018; and an unnamed man and woman who were jailed on spying charges.
Iran was criticised by Human Rights Watch because the accused were not allowed to access evidence against them.
The four men moved in August from Iran’s notorious Evin prison to a hotel, where they joined the woman who had been under house arrest.
The men released by the US were either dual US-Iranian nationals or Iranians with permanent US residence.
Mehrdad Moein Ansari (40), Kambiz Attar Kashani (44), Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani (46), and Amin Hasanzadeh (46), were charged with breaching sanctions by sharing sensitive equipment or technologies with Iran. Kaveh Afrasiabi (65), a reputed scholar, was imprisoned for working in the US as an unregistered foreign lobbyist.
The controversial and complicated breakthrough was negotiated over many months.
US conservatives have denounced the deal, arguing that the Biden administration has conceded too much to Iran. Supporters welcomed the return of the detainees who are widely regarded as “hostages”.
The releases coincided with the arrival in New York of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi. He and US president Joe Biden are to address Tuesday’s opening session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Reacting to the deal, Mr Raisi said: “In the future, other humanitarian actions can be taken” between Tehran and Washington.
Having succeeded in engineering the prisoner release, Iranian and US negotiators may resume mediated talks on partially limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for partial sanctions relief. Talks have failed on US and Iranian compliance with the terms of the 2015 comprehensive agreement which was abrogated by US president Donald Trump in 2018.