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Monday, December 4, 2023

What’s behind the tentative US-Iran settlement involving prisoners and frozen funds

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — America and Iran reached a tentative settlement this week that may finally see 5 detained Individuals in Iran and an unknown quantity Iranians imprisoned within the U.S. launched from custody after billions of {dollars} in frozen Iranian property are transferred from banks in South Korea to Qatar.

The advanced deal — which got here collectively after months of oblique negotiations between U.S. and Iranian officers — was introduced on Thursday when Iran moved 4 of the 5 Individuals from jail to accommodate arrest. The fifth American had already been underneath home arrest.

Particulars of the cash switch, the timing of its completion and the final word launch of each the American and Iranian prisoners stay unclear. Nonetheless, U.S. and Iranian officers say they imagine the settlement might be full by mid- to late-September.

A take a look at what is understood concerning the deal.


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Underneath the tentative settlement, the U.S. has given its blessing to South Korea to transform frozen Iranian property held there from the South Korean foreign money, the gained, to euros.

That cash then could be despatched to Qatar, a small, energy-rich nation on the Arabian Peninsula that has been a mediator within the talks. The quantity from Seoul might be wherever from $6 billion to $7 billion, relying on alternate charges. The money represents cash South Korea owed Iran — however had not but paid — for oil bought earlier than the Trump administration imposed sanctions on such transactions in 2019.

The U.S. maintains that, as soon as in Qatar, the cash can be held in restricted accounts and can solely be capable of be used for humanitarian items, equivalent to medication and meals. These transactions are at the moment allowed underneath American sanctions focusing on the Islamic Republic over its advancing nuclear program.

Some in Iran have disputed the U.S. declare, saying that Tehran could have complete management over the funds. Qatar has not commented publicly on the way it will monitor the disbursement of the cash.

In alternate, Iran is to launch the 5 Iranian-Individuals held as prisoners within the nation. Presently, they’re underneath guard at a resort in Tehran, in response to a U.S.-based lawyer advocating for considered one of them.


Iran doesn’t need the frozen property in South Korean gained, which is much less convertible than euros or U.S. {dollars}. U.S. officers say that whereas South Korea is on board with the switch it’s involved that changing $6 or $7 billion in gained into different currencies directly will adversely have an effect on its alternate charge and financial system.

Thus, South Korea is continuing slowly, changing smaller quantities of the frozen property for the eventual switch to the central financial institution in Qatar. As well as, as the cash is transferred, it has to keep away from touching the U.S. monetary system the place it might change into topic to American sanctions. So a sophisticated and time-consuming sequence of transfers by means of third-country banks has been organized.


The identities of three of the 5 prisoners have been made public. It stays unclear who the opposite two are. The American authorities has described them as wanting to maintain their identities non-public and Iran has not named them both.

The three identified are Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in jail on internationally criticized spying costs. One other is Emad Sharghi, a enterprise capitalist serving a 10-year sentence.

The third is Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and in addition acquired a 10-year sentence.

These advocating for his or her launch describe them as wrongfully detained and harmless. Iran has used prisoners with Western ties as bargaining chips in negotiations because the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


For Iran, years of American sanctions following former U.S. President Donald Trump‘s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear take care of world powers has crushed its already-anemic financial system.

Earlier claims of progress in talks over the frozen property have offered solely short-term boosts to Iran’s hobbled rial foreign money.

The discharge of that cash, even when solely disbursed underneath strict circumstances, might present an financial enhance.

For the U.S., the administration of President Joe Biden has tried to get Iran again into the deal, which fell aside after Trump’s 2018 withdrawal. Final yr, nations concerned within the preliminary settlement provided Tehran what was described as their final, finest roadmap to revive the accord. Iran didn’t settle for it.

Nonetheless, Iran hawks in Congress and outdoors critics of the 2015 nuclear deal have criticized the brand new association. Former Vice President Mike Pence and the rating Republican on the Senate Overseas Relations Committee, Sen. Jim Risch, in addition to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have all in contrast the cash switch to paying a ransom and stated the Biden administration is encouraging Iran to proceed taking prisoners.


On Friday, Iran’s Overseas Ministry made a degree of citing these prisoners. American officers have declined to touch upon who or what number of Iranian prisoners could be launched in a remaining settlement. However Iranian media previously recognized a number of prisoners with {cases} tied to violations of U.S. export legal guidelines and restrictions on doing enterprise with Iran.

These alleged violations embrace the switch of cash by means of Venezuela and gross sales of dual-use gear that the U.S. says might be utilized in Iran’s army and nuclear applications.


No. Outdoors of the tensions over the nuclear deal and Iran’s atomic ambitions, a sequence of assaults and ship seizures within the Mideast have been attributed to Tehran since 2019.

The Pentagon is contemplating a plan to place U.S. troops on board to protect industrial ships within the Strait of Hormuz, by means of which 20% of all oil shipments move shifting out of the Persian Gulf.

A serious deployment of U.S. sailors and Marines, alongside F-35s, F-16s and different plane, can be underway within the area. In the meantime, Iran provides Russia with the bomb-carrying drones Moscow makes use of to focus on websites in Ukraine amid its battle on Kyiv.


Lee reported from Washington.

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