September 26, 2023

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Iran’s steely determination pays off

TEHRAN- The United States and Iran have agreed to liberate five American prisoners in exchange for the detention of a number of Iranians held in the U.S. and access to around $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues in South Korea.

As a first step in the arrangement, Iran has released five American-Iranian citizens from prison and now they are either under house arrest or in a hotel.

The prisoners are Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, who had been jailed on charges of spying, as well as two others whose families withheld their names.

“This is just the beginning of a process that I hope and expect will lead to their return home to the United States,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Thursday. “There’s more work to be done to actually bring them home. My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare.”

It is said that the three named prisoners and one other person were transferred on Thursday from Evin Prison to a hotel in Tehran where they will be held for several weeks until they are allowed to board an airplane.

Mohammad Jamshidi, a top aide to President Raisi, was quoted by the official government news agency IRNA that American prisoners will remain in Iran until all the funds from South Korea are released.

It is worth noting that the U.S. is to blame for all moratoriums made in such talks because it had illogically and futilely resisted all legitimate demands by Iran. The American officials thought they had the upper hand in the talks and gave the cold shoulder to any proposals.

Iran has always been keen on any kind of negotiations but the U.S. officials tend to comport themselves in a way that they are always right! But on the contrary, they showed no sign of logical behavior.

Such a deal can be contemplated as a victory for the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi who called it “honorable diplomacy.”

There are some speculations that Tehran is limited to having access to its own frozen funds, with claims that Tehran can submit orders to a bank in Doha for food and medicine and a limited number of medical equipment and a bank in Doha would pay for the goods. Then Qatari companies would deliver them to Iran. Iran has no direct access to the funds at all.

In reaction to such claims, Mohammad Marandi, advisor to the Iranian nuclear negotiating team, has said that Iran will have direct and full access to its unfrozen assets in South Korea.

Noting that the Qatari companies will have no role, Marandi said that the Iranian banks will have full control and can use the unfrozen assets for buying goods and services without any restrictions. 

Qatar’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Regional Affairs Mohammad bin Abdul Aziz al-Khalifi said that Doha believes in resolving disputes through peaceful means and dialogue.

It is up to Iranian authorities to determine the manner of application of the unfrozen funds.

Given the role of Qatar in facilitating the dialogue between Washington and Tehran, the Qatari diplomat clarified, “We hope that the agreement between the United States and Iran will lead to an agreement on the nuclear issue.”

In this regard, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying the process to release $6 billion in Iranian money wrongfully blocked in South Korea under the guise of U.S. sanctions on Iran is currently under progress.

“Iran has received the necessary guarantee for the United States’ commitment to its obligations in this regard,” the statement added.

The statement followed after reports emerged that Iran and the U.S. had reached an agreement on a prisoner exchange that also included the return of Iranian assets.

The ministry said the transfer of funds has always been a priority and it is up to “the Islamic Republic and competent Iranian authorities” to determine the manner of application of the unfrozen funds.

The statement further said in addition to unfreezing the money, the ministry has been pursuing the release of Iranian inmates as part of its “inherent duties.”

It went on to say that the prisoners had been arrested and held across American jails “illegally and under the vain pretext of their bypassing of the U.S. oppressive sanctions.”

“The release of the prisoners will be realized soon,” the statement said, adding that the Iranian-American inmates subject to release were still in Iran.

However, a number of narratives indicate that the release of the prisoners is contingent upon the delivery of Iranian money to certain accounts.

Several of the Iranians jailed in the U.S. would soon be released, it said, adding that Iran still holds several American prisoners whose release is being pursued by the U.S. government.

Iran has consistently stated its willingness to exchange detainees with the U.S. as a humanitarian issue, on the condition that the latter behave “realistically.”

Sayyid Badr Hamad al-Busaidi, the Foreign Minister of the Sultanate of Oman, who has been serving as a mediator in the talks between Tehran and Washington, stated that he thought the two nations were close to reaching a prisoner swap agreement in an interview with Al-Monitor that was published on June 14.

According to Reuters, Iran has let four jailed Americans to leave the Evin prison in Tehran and enter house arrest. A fifth American was already being held at home.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement, “As part of a humanitarian cooperation agreement mediated by a third-party government, Iran and the U.S. have agreed to reciprocally release and pardon five prisoners. The transfer of these prisoners to out of prison marks a significant initial step in the implementation of this agreement.”

Also on Thursday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani tweeted that the funds were being released and that the imminent release of the Iranian held in the U.S. will take place “within the same framework.”

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated on Monday that the Tehran government will continue to repatriate its frozen assets in some countries, including Japan.

Speaking to reporters in a regular news briefing, Nasser Kanaani emphasized that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had also discussed the matter of the financial claims on the sidelines of the October 2022 United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

He continued by pointing out that the Japanese government has frequently stated that it is willing to pay off its obligations and that it is now making an effort to do so.

Back in February, Kanaani also said that Tehran had been signaling that it is ready to exchange detainees with the U.S. on an “unconditional” basis and without tying the exchange to other matters.

Kanaani emphasized that by releasing a dual Iranian-American citizen months ago, Tehran demonstrated its good faith, while the U.S. has not yet reciprocated.

In a letter dated July 22, President Raisi referred a government bill to Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf to take legal actions to release the frozen Iranian assets.

The bill, officially called “the Referral of Dispute between the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Government of the Korean Republic for Arbitration,” was ratified by the cabinet of ministers on July 5.

The financial dispute between Iran and South Korea dates back to 2018, when the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and started slapping economic sanctions on Iran. Before 2018, South Korea had been the third-largest buyer of Iranian oil and the top customer of Iranian condensates. The oil trade between Tehran and Seoul resulted in the accumulation of some $7 billion in Iranian oil revenues in South Korean banks.

With tensions between Tehran and Washington exacerbating, Seoul moved to block the Iranian funds for fear of falling afoul of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The move irked Iran, which continued to demand that South Korea release the frozen funds. In a bid to get its funds, Iran held several rounds of talks with South Korea that some of which were within the framework of the broader talks between Iran and the West.

On June 20, a senior Iranian lawmaker revealed new details about Oman’s mediatory efforts to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the United States, saying Tehran had agreed to an Omani offer in this regard.

The lawmaker, Shahriar Heidari, who is the deputy chairman of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said the Omani initiative has also struck a responsive chord with South Korea.

“Oman and Qatar are two good and reliable neighbors of Iran. Many times, they announced their readiness to resolve the differences between other countries and Iran. Oman has announced its readiness to resolve disputes between South Korea and Iran. We have no fundamental differences,” Heidari told.

He added, “Our dispute is about Iran’s blocked money in South Korea. In this regard, Oman has made a proposal that has been approved by Iran and South Korea. We hope that this proposal will be implemented.”

Back in May, officials from the United States and South Korea held talks over unfreezing Iranian funds held in South Korean banks, according to a South Korean daily.

The talks were focused on releasing the $7 billion Iranian funds that have long been blocked in South Korean banks due to U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The funds are oil revenues dating back to the period prior to the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran in May 2018.

Citing diplomatic and government sources, the Korea Economic Daily said, “Korean and U.S. government officials are involved in working-level discussions under Washington’s leadership to unfreeze the Iranian funds.”

Original News : https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/487769/Iran-s-steely-determination-pays-off

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