On Tuesday, Iran identified five prisoners it wishes to have freed from the United States. The prospective release is part of a potential deal that would also involve freeing five Iranian-Americans currently held in Tehran, as well as the return of billions of assets formerly held by South Korea.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York acknowledged this, coinciding with the Biden administration’s decision to grant an all-inclusive waiver to global banks. This move allows for the transfer of six billion USD in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar without risking U.S. sanctions.
The actions of both Tehran and Washington suggest progress in the prospective prisoner swap. The frozen funds, once held in South Korean won, are being converted to euros before relocating to Qatar, where Iran can utilize the money for humanitarian purposes.
Ali Karimi Magham, the spokesman for the Iranian mission, confirmed the list of prisoners Iran seeks to free in a statement to the Associated Press. The prisoners include Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian accused in 2021 of failing to register as a foreign agent; Mehrdad Ansari, another Iranian handed a 63-month prison sentence in 2021 for acquiring potential missile, electronic warfare, and nuclear weapon equipment; Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian and a permanent U.S. resident charged in 2019 with alleged theft of engineering plans; Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, an Iranian prosecuted in 2021 for the alleged illegal export of laboratory equipment to Iran; and Kambiz Attar Kashani, an Iranian-American sentenced to 30 months in jail in February for purchasing high-end U.S. electronic equipment and software.
The U.S. State Department refrained from commenting due to the sensitive nature of these ongoing negotiations. On its end, the U.S. is interested in the release of Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz, who were all sentenced to 10 years for various charges including spying. The identities of the fourth and fifth prisoners sought were not released. All five Americans are currently under house arrest in a Tehran hotel.
The possibility of this prisoner exchange has garnered criticism from U.S. Republicans. The discourse has occurred amidst escalating tension between Iran and the West, largely due to Iran’s nuclear program and a series of disputed ship seizures and attacks that have been attributed to Tehran.
Concurrently, the Pentagon is evaluating a plan that would deploy U.S. troops on commercial ships travelling in the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial oil shipment route. At the same time, extensive deployment of U.S. military assets, including F-35s and F-16s, is happening in the region. Furthermore, it has been reported that Iran has been supplying Russia with bomb-carrying drones used in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.