Lucy Sheldon ’27
After several years of negotiations, five American citizens were released out of Iranian custody and back into the U.S. in exchange for the unfreezing of nearly $6 billion in Iranian oil assets. Sentenced to 10 years in Elvin Prison in Iran for alleged espionage, the Biden administration negotiated the release of Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and two who wish to remain anonymous. The U.S. also dismissed the federal charges against five Iranians in U.S. prison for violating sanctions.
Negotiations began in 2021, and after two years of talks between the U.S. and Iran, all mediated by Persian Gulf nations, it seemed a consensus had been met on the release of four Americans from Iran. The original deal was immediately dissolved after the arrest of a fifth American citizen. Utilizing diplomats from Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and Iran began renegotiating the exchange.
The deal included the transfer of $6 billion assets in oil revenues from accounts in South Korea to Qatar for Iran with the requirement that the money would be paid to vendors for humanitarian needs such as food or medicine. Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for the deal, citing that the transfer equated to ransom and could incentivize further detainment of Americans.
Siamak Namazi was arrested in 2015 while visiting family, and Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi were seized in 2018. When Namazi made it home after 3,898 days in captivity, he made a statement saying, “for almost eight years I have been dreaming of this day. I want to see foliage instead of walls and wardens.”
The formerly incarcerated Americans were met on the tarmac with loved ones and flying American flags to celebrate their journey home. Also emerging from the plane were Namazi’s and Tahbaz’s wives who were previously met with roadblocks when trying to leave Iran due to travel bans.
The deal took place two days after the one year anniversary of uprisings in Iran for the death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the morality police for not abiding to Iran’s mandated hijab for women. The government crackdown on the protests has resulted in hundreds of deaths including minors and children and the detainment of an estimated 20,000 Iranian citizens. The Iranian government has stated that the date of the deal was coincidental due to the arrival of the assets in Qatar in response to criticism of diverting attention from the uprisings and crackdowns.
Tensions between Iran and U.S. have been heightened by the handing of a nuclear deal under the Obama administration. The Biden administration has sought to revive it and limit Iran’s nuclear production in exchange for economic sanctions relief. The U.S. withdrew from the deal under the Trump administration. In current talks over Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. does not agree to Iran’s demands to exceed the numbers established in the Obama-era deal. Despite negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program remaining unresolved, the humanitarian exchange made between the U.S. and Iran is a testament to easing tensions between the two countries.