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Iran, US exchange prisoners as billions of Iranian funds released

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The photo shows the two Iranians released in the US who are now in Qatar.

A flight carrying two of the five Iranians released from prison in the United States as part of a prisoner swap deal between Tehran and Washington has landed in Tehran. 

Mehrdad Moein Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour arrived in Tehran on Monday evening after departing from the Qatari capital of Doha earlier in the day.

The three other released Iranians are not returning to Iran, with two staying in the US and one going to a third country to join his family.

Five American prisoners, who were flown out of Iran earlier in the day as part of the swap deal, also left mediator Qatar for the United States. 

"This was purely a humanitarian action," Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi said after arriving in New York for the annual UN General Assembly.

The prisoner exchange was brokered by Qatar hosting multiple rounds of indirect talks between Iran and the United States. Iran also secured the release and transfer of some $6 billion of its assets held in South Korea.

The funds, owed to Iran for exports of oil and gas, had been frozen in South Korean bank accounts since 2018 after the administration of then-President Donald Trump pulled the US from a landmark nuclear deal, further aggravating tensions with Tehran.

Governor of the Central Bank of Iran Mohammad Reza Farzin on Monday confirmed that the Islamic Republic’s funds were transferred to Iranian bank accounts in Qatar.

He said 5.573 billion euros had been deposited into the accounts of six Iranian banks in Qatar’s Al Ahli and Al Dukhan banks.

Following the swap of prisoners, the United States imposed sanctions on former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and on the country's Intelligence Ministry, the US Treasury Department's website showed.

Even so, senior US officials said the door for diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program was not entirely shut.

"If we see an opportunity, we will explore it but right now, I've really nothing to talk about," a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.



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