By ELLEN KNICKMEYER, JON GAMBRELL and LUJAIN JO (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans imprisoned in Iran for years came home Tuesday, tearfully hugging loved ones and proclaiming “Freedom!” after being released under a politically risky deal in which President Joe Biden agreed to release frozen Iranian assets in Amount of almost 6 billion US dollars agreed.
The prisoners landed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to clapping and cheers that could be heard into the early hours of the morning. Siamak Namazi, who was the first to exit the jet, paused for a moment, closed his eyes and took a deep breath before exiting the plane. Relatives, some holding small American flags, hugged them and exchanged greetings in English and Farsi, Iran’s main language.
“The nightmare is finally over,” said Namazi’s brother Babak at the airport.
“We haven’t had this moment in over eight years,” he added, putting his arm around his brother and his previously imprisoned father Baquer, who had previously been released by Iran. “It’s incredible.”
One of the other released Americans, Emad Sharghi, received a U.S. flag and stuffed toy from his sister Neda that she had given to their father 30 years ago when he underwent bypass surgery, a family representative said.
The former prisoners, who flew on the Gulfstream 5 that brought WNBA star Brittney Griner home after her imprisonment in Russia, later posed for a group photo with their families and shouted, “Freedom!”
The successful negotiations over Americans’ freedom earned Biden effusive thanks from their families, but also criticism from Republican presidential rivals and other opponents for the currency deal with one of America’s biggest adversaries.
“Today, five innocent Americans who have been imprisoned in Iran are finally returning home,” the Democratic president said in a statement released as the plane carrying the group from Tehran initially landed in Doha, Qatar, on Monday.
Hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was present at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, said the exchange could be “a step towards a humanitarian action between us and America.”
“It can definitely help build trust,” Raisi told reporters.
Iran has broadcast footage of the two prisoners returning to the Islamic Republic as part of the exchange, while two will remain in the US and a fifth will go to a third country. The two returnees hugged their families and criticized the US for its punishments.
“The US government accused me of wanting to endanger US interests by ignoring the sanctions. “I wonder how the US government can accuse someone of a crime by reading their mind?” Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani told Iranian state television.
Kafrani was charged in 2021 with illegally exporting laboratory equipment to Iran and money laundering, although his case has not yet gone to trial.
Also released, according to Nour News, was Mehrdad Ansari, an Iranian who was sentenced to 63 months in prison by the US in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used for missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons and other military equipment.
Tensions will almost certainly remain high between the United States and Iran, embroiled in disputes over Tehran’s nuclear program and other matters. Iran says the program is peaceful, but it is now enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
The prisoners’ release came amid a major U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf, with the possibility of U.S. troops boarding and guarding merchant ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all oil shipments pass.
When the Americans stopped in Doha after their release from Iran, three of them – Namazi, Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz – showed up. They hugged US Ambassador to Qatar Timmy Davis and others. Then the three threw their arms around each other’s shoulders and walked towards the airport.
In a statement issued on his behalf, Namazi said: “I would not be free today if you all did not allow the world to forget me.”
“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 said.
The United States did not immediately identify the two other released Americans. All were released in exchange for five Iranians in U.S. custody and for the deal on the frozen Iranian assets owed to South Korea. The Biden administration said the five released Iranians did not pose a threat to U.S. national security.
Also on the plane were two family members of the detained Americans, Effie Namazi and Vida Tahbaz, who were under travel bans in Iran.
The $5.9 billion in cash released to Iran was money that South Korea owed Iran — but had not yet paid — for oil purchased before the U.S. imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019 imposed.
The US claims that once the money arrives in Qatar, it is held in blocked accounts and can only be used for humanitarian goods such as medicine and food. These transactions are currently permitted under American sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its advancing nuclear program.
Iranian government officials largely agreed, although some hardliners insisted without evidence that there would be no restrictions on how Tehran could use the money.
The deal has already exposed Biden to new criticism from Republicans and others who say the administration is helping to boost Iran’s economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to American troops and allies in the Middle East. This could have an impact on his re-election campaign.
Former President Donald Trump, the early front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, called it an “absolutely ridiculous” deal on the social media site Truth Social. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Biden of “rewarding and incentivizing Tehran’s bad behavior.”
According to the White House, Biden had an emotional phone call with the families of the released Americans after their release.
In his statement, Biden demanded more information about what happened to Bob Levinson, an American who disappeared years ago. The Biden administration also announced new sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.
The US government, the families of the prisoners and activists have called the allegations against the five Americans unfounded.
The Americans included Namazi, who was arrested in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges; Sharghi, a venture capitalist, sentenced to 10 years in prison; and Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year prison sentence.
There is a long history of prisoner exchanges in Iran and the United States, dating back to the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy and the hostage crisis following the Islamic Revolution.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Jo reported from Doha, Qatar. Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Matthew Lee, Paul Haven, Aamer Madhani and Michelle Phillips in New York; and Eric Tucker and Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.
https://www.twincities.com/2023/09/19/americans-freed-from-iran-arrive-home-tearfully-embrace-their-loved-ones-and-declare-freedom/ Americans liberated from Iran come home, tearfully hugging their loved ones and proclaiming, “Freedom!” – Twin Cities