© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Iranian and U.S. flags are shown printed on paper in this illustration from January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Archive photo
By Andrew Mills
DOHA (Reuters) – Iran and the United States have been informed that $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds have been transferred to accounts in Qatar, a source said, marking a carefully choreographed exchange of five detainees each between the two on Monday arch-enemies.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the funds frozen in South Korea would be in Iran’s possession on Monday, allowing the deal brokered by Qatar after months of talks to go ahead.
There was no immediate public comment from the US.
“Both parties have been informed by Qatar that all $6 billion from Switzerland has been transferred to bank accounts in Qatar,” the source briefed on the matter told Reuters.
“A Qatari aircraft is on standby in Iran, waiting to fly five soon-to-be-released U.S. citizens and two relatives to Doha on Monday morning.”
Under the agreement, the five Americans with dual citizenship are expected to leave Tehran and travel to the Qatari capital Doha and from there fly to the United States.
In return, five Iranians imprisoned in the USA will be released. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said two would return to Iran upon request, while two would remain in the United States. A detainee would return to his family in a third country, he added.
The agreement, first made public on August 10, will resolve a major irritant between Washington and Tehran, although the two sides remain deeply divided over issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and influence in the region to U.S Sanctions and America’s military presence in the region extend to the Gulf.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said on Monday it was working with all parties on the agreement “to ensure the smooth conduct of all procedures so that the issue can be resolved once and for all.”
The US dual citizens set to be released include Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also has British citizenship. They were released from prison last month and placed under house arrest.
A fourth U.S. citizen was also released to house arrest, while a fifth was already under house arrest. Her identity has not been revealed.
Iranian officials have named the five Iranians to be released by the US as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi. Two Iranian officials previously said Afrasiabi would remain in the United States but did not mention others.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have been boiling since Donald Trump, a Republican, pulled the United States out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers as president in 2018. The conclusion of another nuclear deal has since received little traction, as President Joe Biden shows as he prepares for the 2024 US election.
As a first step in the agreement, Washington waived sanctions to allow the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar. The funds were blocked in South Korea, normally one of Iran’s biggest oil customers, when Washington imposed tough financial sanctions on Tehran and the money could not be transferred.
Under the deal, Doha agreed to monitor how Iran spends the unfrozen funds to ensure they are used for unsanctioned humanitarian goods such as food and medicine.
The transfer of Iranian funds has drawn criticism from U.S. Republicans who claim Biden, a Democrat, is actually paying a ransom for U.S. citizens. The White House has defended the deal.
(This story has been corrected in paragraph 7 to say Iranians are being held in the US.)
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