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Iran Nuclear Deal: Release of Hostages

By Mitchell Bard

Following the implementation of the nuclear agreement and just hours before the lifting of economic sanctions was to be announced, Iran released four Americans that had been held hostage for various periods of time, in a prisoner-swap. Included in the group was Washington Post reported Jason Rezaian, who was arrested on July 22, 2014, and found guilty of espionage in a closed trial in October 2015. Rezaian’s wife was arrested with him, but was released in October 2014.

The American prisoners released in the prisoner-swap with Iran were Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. Khosravi-Roodsari opted to stay in Iran after his release, and the other three were brought to Germany where they underwent medical evaluations. All four of these individuals held dual Iranian-U.S. citizenship. The United States released seven prisoners who had been involved in exporting products to Iran in violation of trade sanctions, in exchange for the four Iranian prisoners.

Iranian officials and their American peers had engaged in secret negotiations planning this prisoner exchange for more than a year beforehand. Jewish former FBI Agent and suspected Iranian prisoner Robert Levinson was not released with the group. Separately, Iran released recently detained student Matthew Trevithick. It was revealed in the following months that the United States paid Iran a sum of $400 million that night to secure the safe release of the prisoners. Although the payment was part of a $1.7 billion I.O.U. to Iran for equipment purchased from the United States but never delivered, State Department officials confirmed in mid-August 2016 that the payment was used as leverage, and the timing was no coincidence. The remaining $1.3 billion was delivered to Iran following the release of the prisoners.

Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei published a letter to President Hassan Rouhani on January 19, 2016, which was later posted on Khamenei’s website. In the letter he calls American actions during the previous weeks deeply suspicious, refers to America as arrogant, and states that Iran has been bullied by sanctions levied by the international community. He instructs Rouhani to watch for American “deceptions and breaches of promises” (, January 20, 2016).

Valiollah Seif, the head of Iran’s Central bank, said that Tehran successfully transferred funds from banks in Japan and South Korea to banks in Germany and the United Arab Emirates on January 19, 2016. It was not revealed how much money was transferred during this transaction, but Seif revealed that the lifting of sanctions with the implementation of the JCPOA would free up $32 billion in frozen overseas assets. U.S. based credit card companies like Mastercard and Visa, and payment processing applications such as PayPal are still forbidden from doing business in Iran. Most Iranians choose to use cash, because their credit and banking is not tied to the global system.

Americans Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Xiyue Wang, and Bob Levinson remain hostages in Iran.