Americans freed in Iran prisoner swap land in US
A plane carrying five Americans jailed in Iran for years has landed in the US after a controversial prisoner swap.
They touched down in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, just south of Washington DC on Tuesday morning.
They earlier flew from Tehran to Doha where they were transferred onto a plane bound for the US.
The last piece of the deal fell into place on Monday when $6bn (£4.8bn) in Iranian cash – held in South Korea – was sent to banks in Doha.
The released prisoners are dual Iranian-US citizens. Five Iranians have also been released from US custody and of those five, three chose not to return to Iran.
The plane carrying the five Americans landed at Davison Army Airfield shortly before 05:30 local time (09:30 GMT) and they had an emotional, tearful reunion with family members on the tarmac.
Friends and family waved small US flags as the group departed the plane.
“The nightmare is finally over,”a relative of one of the freed Americans, Siamak Namazi, said. “We haven’t had this moment in over eight years. It’s unbelievable.”
“[It is] the beginning of a very long road to recovery and healing,” a representative for the family added.
Also on board the plane were two family members, US presidential envoy Roger Carstens and Abram Paley, deputy special envoy for Iran. Both met the released detainees in Doha.
In brief remarks at Fort Belvoir, Mr Carstens encouraged the former detainees to take advantage of “post-isolation support” being offered by the US military and expressed confidence they would “maintain the fight to bring more Americans home”.
US officials long maintained that five detainees held in Iran were wrongfully imprisoned for political leverage.
The Americans include 51-year-old businessman Mr Namazi – who has spent nearly eight years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison – as well as businessman Emad Shargi, 59, and 67-year-old environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship.
The other two prisoners did not wish to be named.
The five Iranians released as part of the deal were mostly imprisoned in the US on charges that they violated US sanctions.
In a statement on Monday, US President Joe Biden welcomed the prisoner swap and said that the Americans would be reunited with their loved one “after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering”.
At the same time, Mr Biden vowed to “continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region”.
“And as we welcome home our fellow citizens, I once more remind all Americans of the serious risks of traveling to Iran,” he added. “American passport holders should not travel there”.
The president’s comments came as the US announced fresh sanctions targeting former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s intelligence ministry.
In a statement, one of the released prisoners, Siamak Namazi, said that he “would not be free today, if it wasn’t for all of you who didn’t allow the world to forget me”.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for being my voice when I could not speak for myself and for making sure I was heard when I mustered the strength to scream from behind the impenetrable walls of Evin Prison,” he added.
The Iranian funds released as part of the deal were owed by South Korea to Tehran for oil bought before Trump administration sanctions in 2019 banned such transactions. The US has said that the released funds can only be used for humanitarian purposes.
The return of the money, however, has sparked controversy in the US and come under intense criticism from some of Mr Biden’s political opponents.
Several prominent Republicans have expressed concerns that Iran will use the money to back proxy groups in the Middle East.
The US government has downplayed these concerns. Last week, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that the US treasury department has “strict oversight” on the money and that Washington “has the ability to police their use”.
A senior administration official also told reporters that the US will move to block the funds if Iran tries to divert them or use them for anything other than humanitarian purposes.