Iran has freed five Americans as part of a prisoner exchange between the two longtime adversaries, a deal brokered by Qatar.
Under the deal, Tehran will also gain limited access to $6 billion in frozen funds.
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” President Joe Biden said in a statement, which thanked the governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland and South Korea for their involvement.
The US prisoners boarded a Qatari plane that took off from Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport on Monday afternoon local time.
After a brief stopover in Doha, they will be flown to the Fort Belvoir army base in northern Virginia, where they will be reunited with their families.
The long-awaited prisoner deal raises hopes for further cooperation after decades of hostile relations between the United States and Iran.
In a major diplomatic breakthrough last month, Iran transferred four of the detained Americans from the notorious Evin Prison to a hotel in Tehran. A fifth American included in the swap was already under house arrest.
The prisoners on the US side include Siamak Namazi, a 51-year-old businessman held in Tehran since October 2015, as well as Morad Tahbaz, a 67-year-old conservationist who also holds British citizenship, and Emad Shargi, a 59-year-old businessman, both of whom were arrested in 2018. The remaining two prisoners requested their identities be kept private.
Also aboard the plane were Tahbaz’s wife, Vida Tahbaz, and Namazi’s mother, Effie Namazi. Both women had been barred from traveling outside of Iran.
“For almost eight years I have been dreaming of this day,” Namazi said in a statement issued after the Americans landed in the Qatari capital.
“While today the focus is on celebrating the recovery of five innocent Americans from Iran, we must renew our commitment to the fight to secure the release of all those wrongly imprisoned or taken hostage in Iran and around the world, including foreign or dual nationals,” he said.
As part of the agreement, the US government is also granting clemency to five Iranians, whose identities Al-Monitor first reported last week.
All were charged with or convicted of nonviolent crimes, including sanctions-related violations. Two of the Iranians were in prison and three were awaiting trial.
As a condition of the prisoner exchange, Iran will gain limited access to $6 billion in its oil funds that were frozen in South Korea due to US sanctions.
The funds were wired via the Swiss central bank to a restricted account in Qatar, where US officials say Iran can use them for purchase of food, medicine, medical devices and agricultural products under strict US supervision.
A senior administration official briefing reporter said the United States would “take action to lock up the funds” if Iran tried to divert the funds or use them for nonhumanitarian purposes.