- Written by Bernd Debusmann Jr
- BBC News
A plane carrying five Americans imprisoned in Iran for years has landed in the United States after a controversial prisoner exchange.
The plane landed at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, south of Washington, on Tuesday morning.
They had earlier traveled from Tehran to Doha where they were transferred on a plane bound for the United States.
The final part of the deal came into effect on Monday when $6bn (£4.8bn) of Iranian cash – held in South Korea – was sent to banks in Doha.
The released prisoners are Iranian-American citizens. Five Iranians were also released from US custody, and of these five, three chose not to return to Iran.
The plane carrying the five Americans landed at Davison Military Airport shortly before 05:30 local time (09:30 GMT) and they had an emotional and tearful reunion with family members on the tarmac.
Friends and family waved small American flags as the group left the plane.
“The nightmare is finally over,” said Siamak Namazi, a relative of one of the released Americans. “We haven’t had this moment in over eight years. It’s unbelievable.”
“[It is] “The beginning of a very long road to recovery and healing,” a family representative added.
Also on board were two family members, US presidential envoy Roger Carstens and Abram Paley, deputy special envoy for Iran. Both of them met with the released detainees in Doha.
In brief remarks at Fort Belvoir, Carstens encouraged former detainees to take advantage of the “post-isolation support” provided by the US military, and expressed confidence that they “will continue the fight to bring more Americans home.”
US officials have long maintained that five detainees held in Iran were wrongfully imprisoned for political influence.
The Americans include 51-year-old businessman Namazi, who spent nearly eight years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, as well as businessman Imad Sharqi, 59, and 67-year-old environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds citizenship. British.
The other two prisoners did not want to reveal their names.
Most of the five Iranians released as part of the deal were imprisoned in the United States on charges of violating US sanctions.
In a statement on Monday, US President Joe Biden welcomed the prisoner exchange and said that Americans would be reunited with their loved ones “after years of torment, uncertainty and suffering.”
At the same time, Biden pledged to “continue imposing sanctions on Iran due to its provocative actions in the region.”
He added: “As we welcome our citizens home, I once again remind all Americans of the serious risks of traveling to Iran.” “US passport holders should not travel there.”
The president’s statements came at a time when the United States announced the imposition of new sanctions targeting former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.
One of the released prisoners, Siamak Namazi, said in a statement that he “would not have been freed today if all of you had not allowed the world to forget me.”
He added: “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. Thank you for being my voice when I couldn’t 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.” .
The Iranian money released as part of the deal was owed by South Korea to Tehran for oil it purchased before the Trump administration’s sanctions in 2019 banned such transactions. The United States said the released funds could only be used for humanitarian purposes.
But the return of the money sparked controversy in the United States and was subjected to severe criticism from some of Biden’s political opponents.
Several prominent Republicans have expressed concerns that Iran will use the funds to support proxy groups in the Middle East.
The US government downplayed these concerns. Last week, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the US Treasury had “strict oversight” over the funds and that Washington “has the ability to monitor their use.”
A senior administration official also told reporters that the United States would move to block the funds if Iran tried to transfer them or use them for anything other than humanitarian purposes.
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