The White House welcomed the return of five Iranian-Americans who were held captive by the Iranian government and were released under a deal to unlock $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets. As VOA correspondent Anita Powell reports, Tehran, however, has been coy about how it will use the funds, and critics say the deal was a payment to take hostages from an increasingly authoritarian regime.
The Americans held in Iran were welcomed home with hugs, tears, applause and cheers. They joined their families at the Fort Belvoir military base in Virginia and chanted “Freedom!” as they hailed the outcome of a deal in which President Biden agreed to unlock $6 billion in frozen funds. the government of Iran.
President Biden made a statement saying that “five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally home.” The president says they are innocent and that the espionage charges against them were fabricated.
The good news was welcomed even more widely in the US administration.
“Today, their freedom, the freedom of these Americans, unjustly held in Iran for so long, means that husbands and wives, parents and children, grandparents, can embrace each other again, can see each other again each other and they can be together again”, said the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.
They arrived in Doha, Qatar, on Monday in exchange for the United States unlocking $6 billion in Iranian oil trade profits frozen in South Korean banks.
Tehran’s critics say the regime could use these funds to continue repression and advance its nuclear ambitions. This week, protesters around the world gathered for the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amin, a Kurdish-Iranian girl who died while being held in police custody for violating Iran’s head covering code for women and girls.
The White House emphasized that the unlocking of the funds was accompanied by strict conditions.
“These funds will now have even tighter restrictions than they had in Korea. If Iran tries to divert the funds, we will act and freeze them again. I also want to make it clear that this is in no way a payment. It is not a pledge payment. This is not American taxpayer money. And we haven’t lifted any of our sanctions on Iran,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council.
But Iran’s president says his government will spend the funds “where it is needed”.
Analysts say this deal is much more than just releasing prisoners and unlocking frozen funds. All of this is happening while President Biden and world leaders, including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, are together in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.