Iran and the United States exchanged prisoners on Monday. The trade involved five American prisoners for five Iranian prisoners. It came after billions in once-frozen Iranian assets reached Qatar. Releasing the assets was key to the swap.
Despite the deal, tensions will likely remain high between the United States and Iran. The two are locked in multiple disputes. One concerns Tehran’s nuclear program. Another is over Iran’s export of bomb-carrying drones to Russia. Moscow uses the drones to target Ukraine.
Someone with direct knowledge of the prisoner swap said that both Iranian and U.S. officials were informed that Qatar received money from South Korea. Qatar acts as a go-between for the United States and Iran.
The cash represents funds South Korea owed Iran but hadn’t paid yet. The money was for oil purchased before the United States imposed sanctions on such transactions.
U.S. officials say that the money will be held in restricted accounts in Qatar. It may be used only for humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food.
Iranian government officials have mostly agreed about how the money will be used. But some insist there will be no restrictions on how Tehran spends the money.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani says, “The assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation.”
The prisoner exchange unfolded amid a major U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf. It also comes ahead of the convening of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York. Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi will speak at the assembly.
Critics of the deal say it is helping boost the Iranian economy just as Iran poses a growing threat to American troops and Mideast allies.
Washington says the swap included Americans Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz. Families, activists, and the U.S. government criticized the espionage charges against the men. U.S. official have so far declined to identify the fourth and fifth prisoners.
The five prisoners Iran received were held over allegedly trying to export banned material to Iran—such as electronics that can be used by a military.
The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog warns that Iran now has enough enriched uranium to produce “several” bombs. But that official also says it would take months to build a weapon and possibly shrink it for use on a missile.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful. The U.S. intelligence community has judged that Iran is not pursuing an atomic bomb.
Advances in Iran’s nuclear program have led to fears of a wider regional conflict. Nuclear power Israel declared it will not allow Tehran to develop a bomb. Israel bombed both Iraq and Syria to stop their nuclear programs, so its threat carries weight.
President Joe Biden welcomed the news of the prisoners’ release, saying, “Five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home.”
Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die! — Psalm 79:11