Last Updated: September 18, 2023, 16:05 IST
Long-frozen $6 billion Iranian funds have been transferred to Qatar bank accounts to facilitate a US-Iran prisoner swap, a source briefed on details of the matter told AFP on Monday. “Iranian and US officials have been notified by Qatar that all $6 billion has been transferred from Switzerland to bank accounts in Qatar,” said the unnamed source.
As per the report, a Qatari plane is waiting in Iran to carry US citizens who have been detained there, as part of a prisoner swap. “A Qatari jet is on standby in Iran to bring the five US citizens and two relatives to Doha,” the informed source told the French news agency on condition of anonymity.
The planned exchange comes just ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York, where Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will speak. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani was the first to acknowledge the swap would take place Monday. He said the cash sought for the exchange was now in Qatar. An individual with direct knowledge of the deal, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity given the exchange had yet to be concluded, later said that both Iranian and US officials had been notified by Qatar that the money had been transferred from Switzerland into the Gulf Arab nation.
“We witnessed freezing of parts Iranian assets in some countries including South Korea,” Kanaani said during a news conference. “As part of our policy of active foreign diplomacy, fortunately Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea were released and God willing today the assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation.”
“On the subject of the prisoner swap, it will happen today and five prisoners, citizens of the Islamic Republic, will be released from the prisons in the U.S.,” Kanaani added. “Five imprisoned citizens who were in Iran will be given to the U.S. side reciprocally, based on their will. We expect these two issues fully take place based on the agreement.”
The announcement by Tehran comes weeks after Iran said that five Iranian-Americans are now under house arrest as part of a confidence-building move while Seoul allowed the frozen assets, held in South Korean won, to be converted into euros. That money was then sent to Qatar, an interlocutor between Tehran and Washington in the negotiations.
The swap deal has also already opened US President Joe Biden to fresh criticism from Republicans and others who say that the administration is helping boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to US troops and Mideast allies.
Washington has said the planned swap includes Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized spying charges; Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years; and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.
Iran and the US have a history of prisoner swaps dating back to the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis following the Islamic Revolution. Their most recent major exchange happened in 2016, when Iran came to a deal with world powers to restrict its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions.
(With agency inputs)