Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi says the prisoner swap that took place between Iran and the United States was purely carried out on humanitarian grounds.
Raeisi, who is in New York to take part in the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, made the remarks while speaking to senior American media managers on Monday after Iran and the US implemented a Doha-mediated prisoner swap deal.
Noting that the exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States was a purely humanitarian measure, Iran's president said, “Definitely, any step that is taken [by the United States] to fulfil their commitments will be confidence-building for us.”
Raeisi told NBC that the released funds, which he said had been cruelly blocked and are now in possession of Iran, belong to the Iranian people and would be used to meet their needs.
After two years of high-stakes negotiations, Iran and the US agreed to free prisoners as part of a deal that also included the release of billions of Iranian assets illegally frozen 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 with Iran, further aggravating tensions with Tehran.
On Monday, Iran and the US freed 10 prisoners -- five Iranians and five Americans -- after the US government unblocked the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds held in South Korea.
The plane carrying two of the five released Iranians landed in Tehran on Monday evening. Mehrdad Moein Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour arrived in Tehran 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.
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.
“Foreign intervention cause of regional problems”
Elsewhere in his remarks, Raeisi described promotion of relations with Iran's neighbors as one of his administration's pivotal policies, stressing that “the main reason behind some problems in the regional countries’ relations has been foreign intervention, especially by the United States.”
"The US presence in the region will never create security, just in the same way that normalization of relations with some Arab countries by the Zionist regime will not bring security to this regime," he added.
The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco signed US-brokered normalization agreements with Israel in 2020, drawing condemnations from Palestinians who slammed the deals as “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people.”
“Iranians foiled plot by US, Europeans to foment riots in country”
Raeisi then pointed to the miscalculation made by the US and some Western countries during last year’s riots in Iran, which followed the death of a young Iranian girl.
“The United States and some Western countries imagined due to a miscalculation that if they could manage part of the riots in Iran, they would achieve their goals. However, the Iranian nation did not cooperate with rioters and those who disrupted the country’s order and security and the plot hatched by the US and some European countries failed.”
“I believe that if it the United States and some Western countries had not made this miscalculation, this process [of exchanging prisoners] could have taken place earlier than this,” the Iranian president said.
The riots broke out across Iran in mid-September 2022 after 22-year-old girl called Mahsa Amini fainted at a police station in Tehran and was pronounced dead three days later at hospital.
Western states have time and again accused Iran of cracking down on “peaceful protests” in the country. But Iran says the unfortunate death of Amini, which was caused by her illness, was used as an excuse for widespread rioting instigated by several foreign intelligence agencies, and that the country had to act to protect public order by confronting the rioters.
“Iranians will never give in to US sanctions”
The Iranian president also pointed to the failure of the so-called US maximum pressure policy and sanctions against Tehran, suggesting that American media managers should urge their officials to reconsider the policy of imposing sanctions against the Iranian nation, because Iranians “are determined to overcome problems and will never yield to sanctions."
He noted that the US and the West raise issues such as hijab, human rights and Iran's nuclear activities just as an excuse to harm the Islamic Republic as an independent country.
He slammed US media silence on the killing of more than 1,000 American people by the country's police in 2022 and a recent fatal shooting of a pregnant Black woman by US police in the state of Ohio earlier this month.
“Iran-Russia defense cooperation predates Ukraine war”
The Iranian chief executive once again rejected the West’s claims about Tehran’s arms sale to Russia to be used in the war against Ukraine, saying that the government of Ukraine has so far failed to produce any solid documents in this regard.
"Iran’s relations with Russia in various political, economic and defense fields date back to many years before the Ukraine war, and any interaction and exchanges between the two countries in the area of defense also predate the Ukraine war," Raeisi pointed out.
He once again expressed Iran's readiness to mediate between Ukraine and Russia in an attempt to put an end to the ongoing war and urged the US to make more efforts to end the conflict instead of fueling it.
Russia launched what it calls a special military operation in February 2022 in pro-Moscow regions of Ukraine to prevent Kiev’s persecution of the people in these regions and stop NATO’s eastward expansion.