DUBAI (AP) – Iran has moved five Iranian-Americans from prison to house arrest in exchange for billions of dollars frozen in South Korea, United States (US) and Iranian officials said on Thursday, as part of a tentative deal that follows months of heightened tensions between the two countries.
Iranian officials at the United Nations (UN) told The Associated Press that the prisoner transfer marked “a significant initial step” in the implementation of the agreement, which is still being negotiated and could eventually lead to the full release of the Americans.
Iran acknowledged that the deal involves USD6 billion to USD7 billion that were frozen as a result of sanctions. Iranian officials said the money would be transferred to Qatar before being sent on to Iran if the agreement goes through.
The final transfer of the money – and the release of the five detainees – is expected in the next month or so due to the complicated nature of the financial transactions, officials said.
“My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare and the nightmare that their families have experienced,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a news conference in Washington, adding that more work would be necessary to free the five.
State Department officials spoke to the prisoners on Thursday, he said.
The deal unfolded amid a major American military build-up in the Persian Gulf, with the possibility of US troops boarding and guarding commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 per cent of all oil shipments pass.
The agreement is bound to open US President Joe Biden to fresh criticism from Republicans and others that his administration is helping to boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to US troops and Mideast allies.