By Stephanie Stahl
12: 12 PM – Monday, September 18, 2023
Five Americans who were detained in Iran for several years have now been released as part of a prisoner swap for five Iranians being held in the United States.
On Monday, the five US citizens were flown out of Tehran and landed in Qatar. According to U.S. and Iranian officials, the five Iran nationals have also been released. Two of them have reportedly arrived in Doha and the other three opted not to return to Iran.
The complex transfer deal included the Biden administration giving Tehran access to $6 billion in oil revenue that had been held in South Korea since 2018.
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that he is “grateful to our partners at home and abroad for their tireless efforts to help us achieve this outcome, including the Governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland, and South Korea.”
It remains unclear whether the exchange could pave the way for advancements on issues that separate the two nations, including Iran’s nuclear program, its backing of regional Shi’ite militias, the presence of U.S. troops in the Gulf, and the ongoing U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Shortly before the release of the American detainees, Republican lawmakers criticized the agreement, characterizing it as a “ransom” payment that could potentially incentivize Iran to detain more Americans in the future.
Biden announced on Monday that he was sanctioning former Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence under the Levinson Act “for their involvement in wrongful detentions. And, we will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region,” Biden said.
He also issued a warning to U.S. citizens about the risks involved in traveling to Iran: “American passport holders should not travel there.”
While the return of these Americans is cause for celebration, it also serves as a reminder that some have not returned and may still remain behind bars in Iran. Bob Levinson, a former DEA and FBI agent, was imprisoned in Iran in 2007 and is believed to have died sometime before March 25th, 2020.
“I call on the Iranian regime to give a full account of what happened to Bob Levinson,” President Biden said, adding that “The Levinson family deserves answers.”