Four Americans and seven Iranians got tickets to freedom in a prisoner swap playing out alongside the kick-start of an accord lifting heavy international sanctions on Iran in return for its agreement to pull back its nuclear program.
A fifth American was released separately. The negotiated exchange eases one leading irritant as the
two countries gingerly explore prospects for a smoother relationship after decades of hostility even as they remain sharply at odds on other fronts.
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former US Marine Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose name had not been previously made public, were freed from custody in Iran and were to be flown to Switzerland, US officials said.
US student Matthew Trevithick was released independently of the exchange yesterday and already was on his way home.
In turn, the US will pardon or drop charges against seven Iranians six of whom are dual US-Iranian citizens accused or convicted of violating US sanctions.
Three were serving prison terms and now have received a commutation or pardon. Three others were awaiting trial; the last one made a plea agreement.
It’s unclear if they will leave the US for Iran. They are free to stay in the US. In addition, the US will drop Interpol “red notices” essentially arrest warrants on 14 Iranian fugitives it has sought, officials said.
The announcement of the exchange came shortly before Iran was certified as having met all commitments under the nuclear deal with six world powers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other officials involved in the accord met in Vienna as the diplomatic achievement unfolded.
The release of the prisoners and the nuclear deal developments capped weeks of intense US-Iran diplomacy that took several unexpected turns after an Iranian ballistic missile test in October and then the detention on January. 12 by Iran of 10 US Navy sailors and their two boats in the Persian Gulf.
The four Americans released in Iran under the negotiated prisoner exchange were still in that country today as arrangements progressed to get them out, said a senior Obama administration official. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, the official said efforts were underway to get the four together and on a plane out of Tehran.