Iran names prisoners to be freed in US as Biden authorizes release of $6bn in funds

Iran's mission to the United Nations revealed the names on Tuesday of the five Iranian prisoners who will be freed as part of a prisoner swap deal with the US.

The announcement by the New York-based mission came shortly after the Biden administration issued a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar.

Iran’s state media cited the country’s representative to the United Nations as saying that five Iranian prisoners being held in the US will be released soon in exchange for five Americans held in Iran.

Some of them will return to Iran, while some will remain in the US, the mission said.

The five men have been identified as Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Ansari, Amin Hasanzadeh, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani and Kambiz Attar Kashani.

Iran and the US reached an agreement last month mediated by a third party to exchange prisoners that would also see Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea and Iraq unblocked.

The frozen assets in South Korea are to be transferred to Qatar and used for humanitarian purposes.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, in an interview with the American news channel NBC on Tuesday, said the money “belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money.”

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, however, insisted that the funds released from South Korea would be “under strict oversight” by the US Treasury Department.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken late last week signed the sanctions waiver, paving the way for the release of Iranian frozen funds, which was reported by the American media only on Monday.

Iran will also be releasing five American prisoners who were moved from north Tehran’s highly-fortified Evin Prison to house arrest last month.

They include Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, while the fourth and fifth prisoners have not been publicly identified.

Namazi is an Iranian-American businessman who was jailed in 2015. Sharghi, also an Iranian-American businessman, was jailed in 2018. Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmentalist who also holds a British passport, was also jailed in 2018.

Iran and the US were engaged in marathon negotiations to exchange prisoners, which emerged as one of the key sticking points in Vienna talks, with both sides blaming each other for the delay.

In March, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced that Iran had reached an agreement with the US to swap prisoners, saying he hoped the exchange would take place soon.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has come under pressure at home from Republicans for issuing the blanket waiver to unfreeze Iranian assets at a time when tensions continue to simmer between the two sides.

Tensions escalated again recently after the US deployed Marines alongside F-35s, F-16s and other military aircraft to the strategic Strait of Hormuz near Iranian territorial waters.

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