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Source: Diplomatic

Sep 12, 2023

Signs US Iran prisoner swap advancing amid gloomy anniversary of death that sparked Iran protests
Signs Iran prisoner swap could be advancing come as Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to travel to New York for UN meeting next week & anniversary of death of Mahsa Amini.


A prisoner release deal with Iran looks like it could occur as early as next week, when Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi will be in New York to attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. His visit also coincides with the one year anniversary on September 16th of the death of the 24 year Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police, which sparked months of protests in Iran led by Iranian women and young people.

The White House said it did not anticipate any individuals to be released into U.S. custody this week.

The State Department declined to provide a date for when it anticipated that the five Iranian Americans, including businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharghi, 59, and British-born businessman and wildlife conservationist Morad Tahbaz, 67, might be allowed to leave Iran. The five Americans, deemed wrongfully detained by the State Department, were moved from Iranian prison to a less restrictive house arrest situation in an Iranian hotel in an interim step towards their release last month.

“I will say it is a process that is ongoing,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told journalists at the Department press briefing Monday (Sept. 11), when asked about progress on a possible Iran prisoner swap.

“We continue to work towards the full release of the American citizens that were detained in Iran, that have now moved on to house arrest,” Miller said. “I don’t have any update for ultimate resolution.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken late last week signed off on a sanctions waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korea to Qatar, as part of the previously announced prisoner swap deal, according to a notification sent to Congress, the Associated Press reported today (Sept. 11).

U.S. administration officials, on the waiver, said it was not new, but a procedural step in a process it had been extensively briefing Congress on throughout.

On September 8, Secretary Blinken undertook a procedural step in an ongoing process to ensure Iranian funds can move from one restricted account to another and remain restricted to humanitarian trade,” NSC spokesperson Adrienna Watson said in a statement.  “As we have said from the outset, what is being pursued here is an arrangement wherein we secure the release of 5 wrongfully held Americans.  This remains a sensitive and ongoing process.  

“While this is a step in the process, no individuals have been or will be released into U.S. custody this week,” the NSC statement continued. “We have kept Congress extensively informed from the outset of this process - long before today - and we will continue to do so, including with additional already scheduled briefings this week.”

“Once the money reaches Qatar from South Korea via Switzerland, Qatari officials will instruct Tehran and Washington to proceed with the releases under the terms of a document signed by both sides and Qatar in late July or early August,” Reuters reported Sunday (Sept. 10). “The transfer to banks in Qatar is expected to conclude as early as next week if all goes to plan,” it cited a source.

A non governmental source told Diplomatic it understood the U.S. side currently expected the American prisoners might be released on September 18th or 19.

In another sign the previously announced prisoner swap could be imminent, media reports citing Iranian officials today identified five Iranians and Iranian dual nationals prosecuted by the United States mostly for violating U.S. export control and lobbying registration laws, that it said would be released in the swap. They include political scientist Kaveh Afrasiabi; Mehrdad Moein Ansari, a previously Dubai-based freight forwarder; Kambiz Attar Kashani; Montreal-based Iranian national Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani; and Amin Hasanzadeh, journalist Negar Mortazavi reported

‘The women are not giving up’

If it proceeds as negotiated on schedule, the prisoner release deal will be a huge relief to the long suffering families of the detained. And it may do a bit to distract from gloomier headlines during Raisi’s New York visit, where he is certain to face protests, at least back home. But the situation in Iran remains tense, amid continued and deepening political repression, and economic hardship; and while protests for now have subsided, Iran is unpredictable and they are likely to erupt again at the next trigger, said New York Times UN bureau chief and Iran expert Farnaz Fassihi.

“The Islamic Republic regime and the government know that the discontent that sort of erupted on the streets is not over,” Fassihi said at an event on the one year anniversary of the death of Amini hosted by the Stimson Center today. “They've managed to crush the manifestation of that on the streets. But I think [the peoples’] aspirations for wholesale change….to find a new path is very much alive.”

“The most visible and enduring public sign of this resistance is women defying the mandatory hijab law,” Fassihi continued. “Not just in Tehran. But in many other cities, even in smaller towns. …Women continue to stage this collective civil disobedience by not wearing the headscarf… They are coming out dressed as they as they wish. And despite…the government trying very hard to crack down on them, …the women are not giving up.

“So this shows that things are not just not the same,” Fassihi said. “The relationship between the people and Islamic Republic is not the same and will not go back. …The dissent, and this feeling of being fed up with the status quo, is very much alive and you know, Iran is unpredictable, and another incident could trigger it and it could erupt.”

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