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DUBAI, Sept 18 — Tehran said a deal with its arch foe the United States for unfreezing Iranian funds worth US$6 billion (RM28 billion) then swapping five detainees each would go ahead today after months of talks mediated by Qatar.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said the funds frozen in South Korea would be in Iran’s possession today, which would trigger the swap of five US citizens detained in Iran for five Iranians held in the US.
Under the carefully choreographed deal, the five Americans, with dual nationality are expected to leave Tehran and head to Qatar’s capital Doha and then from there fly to the United States, sources previously told Reuters.
In return, the five Iranians in the US will be released so they can travel to Iran. However, Iranian officials and Iran’s state news agency have said one of those detainees is expected to remain in the United States.
The deal, first made public on August 10, will remove a major irritant between Washington and Tehran, although the two sides remain deeply at odds over issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its influence around the region to US sanctions and America’s military presence in the Gulf.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry had said today it was working with all parties on the deal “to ensure smooth progress of all procedures so that it will be resolved once and for all.”
The US dual citizens to be released include Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British nationality. They were released from prison and put under house arrest last month.
A fourth US citizen was also released into house arrest, while a fifth was already under house arrest. Their identities have not been disclosed.
Iranian officials have named the five Iranians to be released by the US as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi. Two Iranian officials said Afrasiabi would remain in the United States.
As a first step in the deal, Washington waived sanctions to allow the transfer of US$6 billion in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar. The funds had been blocked in South Korea, normally one of Iran’s largest oil customers, because of US sanctions.
Under the agreement, Doha agreed to monitor how Iran spends the funds to ensure it goes on non-sanctioned humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine.
The transfer of Iran’s funds has drawn criticism from US Republicans who say President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is in effect paying a ransom for US citizens. The White House has defended the deal.
Ties between Washington and Tehran have been boiling since Donald Trump, a Republican, pulled the US out of a nuclear deal between Iran and global powers when he was president in 2018. Reaching another nuclear deal has gained little traction since then, as Biden prepares for the 2024 US election. — Reuters