Iran and the United States will exchange prisoners on Monday after some $6 billion once frozen in South Korea reached Qatar, a key element of the planned swap, officials said.
Six billion dollars worth of frozen Iranian funds have been transferred via Qatar, paving the way for a prisoner exchange between the United States and the Islamic Republic, sources close to the matter said on Monday.
“A Qatari plane is already in Iran to evacuate to Doha five American citizens and two of their relatives”, according to one of the Doha-based sources, who requested anonymity.
“The Iranians and Americans have been notified of the transfer from Switzerland to bank accounts in Qatar of the entire six billion dollars”, which had been frozen in South Korea, she added.
Iran has confirmed the transfer.
“We received an official letter from Qatar yesterday stating that the accounts of six Iranian banks had been activated,” the governor of Iran’s Central Bank told state television.
“Today, the equivalent of 5,573,492,000 euros has been deposited in Iranian bank accounts with two Qatari banks,” Mohammadreza Farzin said.
He added that his country intended to take South Korea to court for not having allowed Tehran access to these funds and to claim damages following their depreciation.
The transfer of these funds has not yet been confirmed by the United States.
The five Americans are to be exchanged for five Iranians detained in the US, under the terms of an agreement brokered by Doha.
Earlier in the day, an Iranian diplomatic spokesman had said that his country hoped the exchange would take place on Monday.
“We hope to have confirmation today of the payment of the totality” of the assets released and that “the exchange of prisoners will take place on the same day”, Nasser Kanani told the press in Teheran.
“Five Iranian prisoners will be released and, in exchange, five American citizens imprisoned in Iran will be handed over to the American side at their request”, said Mr Kanani.
He said of the Iranians released, “two will return to Iran, one will go to a third country where his family lives and the last two will stay” in the United States.
This arrangement had been announced on 10 August, and five Americans detained in Iran had subsequently been transferred in August from their prison to house arrest before their transfer to Qatar.
Among them is businessman Siamak Namazi, who was arrested in 2015 and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2016 for espionage.
Among the five Iranians to be released by the US are Reza Sarhangpour and Kambiz Attar Kashani, accused of “diverting US sanctions” against Iran.
In the eyes of some experts, this agreement testifies to an easing of tensions between Iran and the United States but does not prejudge a possible agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue.
European-led negotiations failed in 2022 to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, moribund since the US unilateral withdrawal in 2018 under President Donald Trump.