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U.S. and Iran trade detainees after Qatar deal unfreezes $6 billion of Tehran’s funds

U.S. and Iran trade detainees after Qatar deal unfreezes $6 billion of Tehran's funds

A woman steps through a door that is covered by a mural depicting American hostages and wrongful detainees who are being held abroad, July 20, 2022, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington. At left is Siamak Namazi, who has been in captivity in Iran since 2015. At right is Jose Angel Pereira, who has been imprisoned in Venezuela since 2017.

Patrick Semansky | AP

Five U.S. detainees flew out of Iran on Monday in a swap for five Iranians held in the U.S. in a rare deal between the arch-enemies that also unfroze $6 billion of Tehran’s funds.

A plane sent by mediator Qatar flew the five U.S. citizens and two of their relatives out of Tehran soon after both sides received confirmation the funds had been transferred to accounts in Doha, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

At the same time, two of the five Iranians landed in Qatar, a U.S. official said. Three have opted not to return to Iran.

The deal, after months of talks in Qatar, removes a major irritant between the U.S., which brands Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which calls Washington the “Great Satan”.

But they remain deeply divided on other issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program and its influence around the region to U.S. sanctions and America’s military presence in the Gulf.

A senior U.S. administration official said the deal did not change Washington’s adversarial relationship with Tehran, but the door was open for diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program.

“If we see an opportunity, we will explore it but right now, I’ve really nothing to talk about,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The five Americans with dual nationality are due to fly to Doha and then on to the U.S. “They are in good health,” an Iranian official briefed on the process said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said two of the Iranians being released would return to Iran while two would stay in the U.S. at their request. One detainee would join his family in a third country, he added.

Kanaani said the funds, blocked in South Korea after U.S. sanctions on Iran were hardened in 2018, would be available to Tehran on Monday. Under the deal, Qatar will ensure the cash is spent on humanitarian goods and not items under U.S. sanctions.

Shuttle diplomacy

Qatar, a tiny but hugely wealthy Gulf Arab energy producer, has sought to raise its global profile, hosting the soccer World Cup last year and carving out a role in international diplomacy. The Sunni Muslim nation hosts a big U.S. military…

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