It is probable that an exchange of prisoners between Iran and the U.S. has been initiated, coinciding with the transfer of $6 billion of previously frozen Iranian assets to Qatar.

Officials have stated that Iran and the United States will carry out a prisoner exchange on Monday. This exchange is made possible by the transfer of approximately $6 billion, previously frozen in South Korea, to Qatar.

The planned exchange comes just ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi will speak. However, the swap won’t mean that tensions have been lowered between the U.S. and Iran, which now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, was the first to confirm that the exchange would occur on Monday. He mentioned that the required cash for the swap is currently in Qatar.

An individual with direct knowledge of the deal, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity given the exchange had yet to be concluded, later said that both Iranian and U.S. officials had been notified by Qatar that the money had been transferred from Switzerland into the Gulf Arab nation.

Kanaani expressed his thoughts during a news conference that was broadcasted on state television. However, the transmission abruptly ended after his statements, and no reason was given for the interruption.

“Iran’s assets in certain countries, such as South Korea, were frozen,” Kanaani stated. “Fortunately, due to our proactive foreign diplomacy, the frozen assets in South Korea have been released. We hope that today the government and the nation will regain full control over these assets.”

SEE ALSO: Iran blocks nuclear inspectors after U.S. unfreezes billions of dollars for Tehran

“I cannot reword”

He mentioned that a pair of Iranian detainees will remain in the United States.

Iranian news agencies promptly reported, citing Kanaani, that the exchange of prisoners would take place on Monday. No further details were provided by the agencies, and Washington did not acknowledge the statements.

However, a Qatar Airways Airbus A320 landed on Monday morning at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran, where previous prisoner releases have taken place, according to flight-tracking data analyzed by the AP. Qatar Airways uses Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport for its commercial flights.

Kanaani’s statement follows Iran’s recent announcement of placing five Iranian-Americans under house arrest as a gesture of trust-building. Meanwhile, Seoul permitted the conversion of frozen assets, originally in South Korean won, into euros. Subsequently, these funds were transferred to Qatar, serving as a mediator between Tehran and Washington during the negotiations.

The scheduled exchange has occurred while there is a significant increase in the presence of the American military in the Persian Gulf. There is a chance that U.S. troops may be deployed to board and protect commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, which is responsible for facilitating the passage of 20% of global oil shipments.

The agreement has also exposed President Joe Biden to new criticism from Republicans and other individuals who argue that the administration is aiding the Iranian economy while Iran continues to pose an increasing danger to American troops and allies in the Middle East. This criticism may also impact his chances of being reelected.

On the U.S. side, Washington has said the planned swap includes Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized spying charges; Emad Sharghi, a venture capitalist sentenced to 10 years; and Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.

At this time, U.S. officials have chosen not to disclose the identities of the fourth and fifth individuals in custody.

Iran has stated its intention to apprehend five prisoners, primarily due to their alleged involvement in attempting to transport goods to Iran.

The final dollar amount from Seoul could be anywhere between $6 billion to $7 billion, depending on exchange rates. The cash represents money South Korea owed Iran – but had not yet paid – for oil purchased before the Trump administration imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.

The United States asserts that, upon arrival in Qatar, the funds will be placed in accounts with limitations and can solely be utilized for humanitarian purposes, such as purchasing medicine and food. These transactions are presently permitted under American sanctions aimed at the Islamic Republic due to its progress in nuclear development.

Most Iranian government officials have agreed with this explanation, although a few hard-liners have claimed, without evidence, that there will be no limitations on how Tehran utilizes the funds.

Iran and the United States have a long-standing tradition of exchanging prisoners, which originated from the 1979 U.S. Embassy seizure and hostage crisis during the Islamic Revolution. In 2016, they engaged in a significant exchange when Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions by global powers.

At that moment, four American hostages, among them Jason Rezaian, a journalist from the Washington Post, were released and returned to the United States from Iran. Additionally, a number of Iranians residing in the U.S. were also granted their freedom. Coincidentally, on that very day, the administration of President Barack Obama transported $400 million in cash to Tehran.

Iran has faced global condemnation for its practice of singling out individuals who hold dual citizenship. The Western countries claim that Iran is exploiting foreign detainees as a means of negotiation, but Tehran denies these allegations.

After then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal in 2018, negotiations for a significant prisoner exchange encountered difficulties. Subsequently, starting from the following year, a sequence of attacks and ship seizures, which were attributed to Iran, have heightened tensions.

Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear program now enriches closer than ever to weapons-grade levels. While the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has warned that Iran now has enough enriched uranium to produce “several” bombs, months more would likely be needed to build a weapon and potentially miniaturize it to put it on a missile — if Iran decided to pursue one. The U.S. intelligence community has maintained its assessment that Iran is not pursuing an atomic bomb.

In recent months, Iran has made efforts to address certain concerns raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, the progress in its nuclear program has raised concerns about a potential conflict in the region. Israel, which possesses nuclear capabilities, has stated its opposition to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Israel’s history of bombing Iraq and Syria to halt their nuclear programs adds significance to this threat, especially considering its suspected involvement in targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Iran is also providing Russia with drones that are equipped with bombs. These drones are being used by Moscow to attack locations in Ukraine as part of their conflict with Kyiv. This ongoing disagreement between Tehran and Washington is another significant issue.


This report was contributed to by Nasser Karimi, a writer from the Associated Press in Tehran, Iran.

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