UNITED STATES/IRAN: The US and Iran are anticipated to pull off a contentious prisoner exchange on Monday, which involves the unfreezing by the Biden administration of $6 billion (£4.8 billion) of Iranian oil funds held in South Korea since 2018.
Tehran and Washington are set to exchange five prisoners each, which includes Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist.
In a complex and sensitive diplomatic agreement meticulously crafted over several months, the five American prisoners are scheduled to depart from Tehran, with their destination being Qatar, from where they will board flights bound for Washington.
Critics, particularly among Republicans and some former Iranian political detainees, have alleged that Joe Biden’s agreement with Iran, which is viewed by some as the world’s top terrorist state, could potentially incentivize Iran to continue using hostage-taking as a significant element of its diplomatic strategy.
The State Department, on the other hand, maintains that the funds being released constitute Iranian-owned oil money that was frozen by the Trump administration in 2018 when the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
Last week, three European nations, including the United Kingdom, made allegations against Iran, asserting that the country is amassing significant quantities of highly enriched uranium that could have no feasible civilian purpose.
The United States has stated that Qatar, serving as the mediator for the prisoner exchange, will oversee the use of the unfrozen funds strictly for the purchase of goods, primarily focused on essentials like food, agricultural products, and medicine, which are not subject to sanctions. Critics argue that it will be nearly impossible to police and that the American threat to withdraw if Iran breaks the deal is bogus.
A pivotal moment in the path to the swap occurred when the State Department granted a waiver that streamlined the process of transferring the funds from South Korean banks to accounts located in Switzerland and Doha.
The five American prisoners have already been moved from Evin jail in Tehran to different hotels within the city. Their journey to the United States for their long-awaited return will commence with a flight to Doha.
Morad Tahbaz remained in Iran when British-Iranian dual nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were released as part of an arrangement brokered by the then UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss.
Tehran has publicly disclosed the identities of the five Iranians who are being granted clemency in the United States. However, it remains uncertain whether all of them wish to return to Iran. Most of these individuals had been imprisoned for violating American sanctions.
This agreement is a coup for Qatar, which has played a mediating role between two nations with deep-seated mutual distrust. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, scheduled to address the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, is likely to praise the agreement as a further sign of US weakness.
Michael McCaul, the Republican leader of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has criticized Biden for what he sees as a return to past mistakes, accusing him of naivety.
Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for the presidency, strongly condemned Biden’s choice, deeming it as highly objectionable, asserting that it “has sent a signal to hostile regimes that if you take Americans, you could potentially profit … A rogue regime should know that if you touch the hair on the head of any American, you will have hell to pay.”
Richard Ratcliffe, the spouse of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, expressed criticism regarding the timing of the release, which coincided closely with the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s tragic death while in Iranian police custody.
The potential outcome of this agreement remains uncertain, whether it will lead to a broader diplomatic breakthrough or if it signifies a new, less ambitious path to restrict Iran’s civilian nuclear program in which Tehran agreed to reduce its highly enriched uranium reserves.
Iranian Americans, whose US citizenship is not recognized by Iran, often find themselves caught in the middle of tensions between the two nations. Over the last week, reports emerged of the arrests of three dual nationals in Iran, and two weeks ago, it was confirmed that Johan Floderus, an EU diplomat stationed in Iran, has been detained since April 2022.