US releases $6bn of Iran’s oil revenues ahead of UN meet


In a deal brokered by the Biden administration, $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues were unfrozen, and the US released five Iranians charged or convicted of non-violent crimes….reports Asian Lite News

President Joe Biden has ordered the unfreezing of Iran’s $6 billion of oil revenue in an effort to thaw the icy relations between the two countries over the nuclear issue even as a prisoner swap was negotiated successfully,  some of them were on a plane back to US.

The President’s deal comes ahead of a UN meeting here where Biden and Iran’s hardliner president will both speak, unfolding as it does, against a backdrop of nuclear tensions between the two countries.

Five Americans imprisoned in Iran were on a plane Monday along with two family members after being released in a prisoner exchange the Biden administration negotiated with Tehran, media reports said.

As part of the deal, $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenues was released by the Biden administration and five Iranians charged or convicted of non-violent crimes were freed by the US, according to US officials.

The exchange is in no way tied to the stalled nuclear talks between the US and Iran, but does come as a move to defuse the increasing tensions that periodically threaten a military confrontation.

Coming ahead of the UN General Assembly this week, President Joe Biden and Iranian hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi will both speak out their views and intentions.

Political observers feel that the prisoner swap between US and Iran could heighten tensions in the US presidential race, USA Today said.

Republicans especially presidential hopefuls such as Trump, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and others have attacked the Biden administration’s decision on the prisoner exchange, dubbing it as a “Ransom Pay-out” to a country that sponsors terrorism.

The exchange set free five Americans accused of being spies or working on behalf of the US government in Iran. The UN described their detentions as “arbitrary”.

The White House rejected allegations that they were spies as false. A senior Biden administration official confirmed that two family members were also on the plane leaving Iran for Qatar and then on to the US.

Three of the five Americans, all dual US-Iran citizens, are Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz. The identities of the two other Americans have not been disclosed. 

A senior Biden administration official said those two Americans wish to keep their identities private. Also on the plane are Namazi’s mother and Tahbaz’s wife, both of whom were previously unable to leave Iran.

Businessman Namazi, 51, was arrested in 2015 while visiting his family in Tehran.  Sharghi, 59, was detained in 2018 a year after moving to Iran from the US to work for a tech investment company.

Environmentalist Tahbaz, 67, who also holds a British passport, was arrested in 2018 while working on a conservation project in Iran, USA Today reported.

Two of the five Iranians freed now had been convicted of non-violent crimes while three others were awaiting trial and had not been convicted, two senior Biden administration officials said.

The five Americans were moved from prison to house arrest in an Iranian hotel in an interim step towards their release last month. President Biden negotiated the tough deal after months of indirect negotiations between US and Iranian officials.

Blinken welcomes release of American detainees

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday expressed his happiness and said that the US will use the Levinson Act and other tools to promote accountability for Iran and other regimes for the cruel practice of wrongful detention of Americans.

Secretary Blinken in an official press release said, “Act, which bolsters our ability to bring home hostages and wrongfully detained U.S. nationals held overseas, and President Biden’s Executive Order 14078, which builds on the Levinson Act and reinforces the tools to deter and disrupt hostage-taking and wrongful detention by other countries… We will use the Levinson Act and other tools to promote accountability for Iran and other regimes for the cruel practice of wrongful detention.”

The official press release informed that Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and two other U.S. citizens who wish to remain private have departed Iran and are on their way back to the United States to be reunited with their families.

They are joined by two of their relatives, also U.S. citizens, who had been prevented from leaving Iran.

In the press release, the US Secretary recognised the abduction of US citizen, Bob Levinson and said that the Iranian regime has yet to account for his fate.

He said, “The Iranian regime has inflicted unimaginable pain on Bob’s family, and they have yet to account for his fate. We once again call upon the Iranian regime to give a full accounting of what happened to Bob Levinson.”

Quoting the press release, several of these individuals have spent years imprisoned as part of the Iranian regime’s cruel practice of wrongful detention, but today they are all returning home to their loved ones.

Antony Blinken also lauded the Joe Biden-led US government and said that the safety and security of U.S. citizens is the utmost priority for him and the US President. 

He added, “Under President Biden’s leadership, we have now secured the release of more than 30 wrongfully detained Americans around the world. I am grateful to everyone from the State Department and across the government who worked tirelessly to bring home our U.S. citizens.”

Blinken emphasised that the US will not rest until every wrongfully detained American reaches home safely.

He said, “I would like to express our deep appreciation for the indispensable role played by the State of Qatar over the last two years in mediating this arrangement.”

He also thanked the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and senior Qatari officials for their steadfast involvement and assistance in securing the release of U.S. citizens and establishing the Humanitarian Channel in Qatar for Iran to purchase humanitarian goods like food, medicine, medical devices, and agricultural products.

In the end, the US State Secretary reiterated the US warning for all its citizens not to visit Iran and said the result would not be the same for all the citizens.

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