After the release of five imprisoned Americans from a prison in Iran, hopes of an early prisoner exchange are growing. It's an important first step, National Security Council communications director John Kirby said on US television.
"They are out of prison, but they are not out of Iran." Negotiations with Tehran are ongoing, Kirby said. He confirmed that $6 billion in assets could be frozen as part of a possible deal. Relief of sanctions is not up for debate.
Several Germans also arrested
Iran has consistently detained foreigners on charges of espionage or other national security violations. Human rights activists criticize the procedures, which are often negotiated behind closed doors, as unfair. The Islamic Republic has also been accused of holding foreigners hostage.
Several Germans are also imprisoned in Iran. This includes the German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi, who was arrested in October 2020 and then convicted of "propaganda against the state". Another German-Iranian, Djamshid Sharmahd, was sentenced to death on terror charges. It is feared that Iran will actually carry out the death penalty.
Lawyer warns against hasty optimism
The five released Americans have now been placed under house arrest. Among the best known of these is businessman Siamak Namasi, who holds both citizenships. He was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to ten years in prison for espionage. He was in the notorious Ewin prison in the capital, Tehran, to the end. In 2018, environmentalist Morad Tahbas and businessman Emad Shargi were arrested. The identity of two other previously detained people with US passports is not known. According to the government, the two do not want to be named publicly.
Kirby said that the negotiations for the release were handled with the help of Switzerland. Since the US government has no diplomatic relations with Iran, a Swiss government official verified that the detainees were released from prison and placed under house arrest.
The lawyer for the Namasi family, Jared Genser, told CNN that the five Americans were staying together in a hotel in Tehran. They could exchange ideas there and keep in touch with their families. However, with a view to a possible prisoner exchange, he made it clear: "Ultimately, we all know that you can't count on anything until the plane has taken off and left Iranian airspace."
Kirby: "No relief from sanctions"
The frozen assets, which are now being negotiated, are around US$ 6 billion (€5.46 billion), which South Korea had blocked due to international sanctions. Former US Vice President Mike Pence has criticized the plans.
US President Joe Biden has "approved the largest ransom payment in American history," wrote the Republican, who is running for his party's presidential candidacy, on Twitter, recently renamed X. "Iran will now use this money to produce drones for Russia and to fund terrorism against us and Israel."
Kirby dismissed this: "There will be no ransom payments. There will be no relief from sanctions. No US taxpayers' money will be used." The account has existed for several years - the money on it can only be used for humanitarian purposes. You also have to be realistic. "It's impossible to bring five Americans back to the United States without a compromise with Tehran," Kirby said.