WASHINGTON (AFP) – Five Americans freed by Iran in a high-stakes prisoner swap landed back in the United States (US) yesterday to a joyous reunion with family members.
The five arrived aboard an executive jet at an airfield in Fort Belvoir southwest of Washington.
Relatives waved US flags and hugged the freed prisoners as they disembarked from the aircraft, then posed for a group photograph, grinning widely.
“Welcome home,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan posted on X, formerly Twitter.
The former prisoners, including one held for eight years, were part of a rare prisoner exchange between Washington and Tehran, a deal that included the unfreezing of USD6 billion in fund, frozen by US ally South Korea.
The swap marked a slight thaw in relations between the two countries over a host of issues, including Iran’s advances in its nuclear programme, although some observers urged caution in viewing the release as a sign of change.
The prisoners arrived on a flight from the Gulf state of Qatar, which helped facilitate the exchange, negotiated over several months. They will receive a medical checkup in the Washington area.
The Biden administration has rejected criticism at home that it was paying “ransom”, insisting the money will be used only for humanitarian purposes, with a threat to re-freeze the funds if not.
But Iran has insisted it has full access. The money “cruelly blocked until now and currently in the possession of the republic belongs to the people (of Iran) and we will use them to meet the people’s needs”, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said in New York.