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Source: RFE/RL

Aug 11, 2023

U.S. Journalist Formerly Imprisoned In Iran Says Transfer Of Americans Indicates 'Further Interaction' Is Possible

An American journalist who was imprisoned in Iran for more than a year in 2015-16 says the transfer of five Americans from a prison in Tehran to house arrest is an indication that there could be further interaction between Washington and Tehran.

Jason Rezaian, who was accused of spying and held in Tehran’s Evin prison for 544 days eight years ago, told RFE/RL in an interview that little seemed possible during the first three years of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's government in terms of the United States being able to communicate with Tehran.

But the release on August 10 of the five Americans from Evin prison “would indicate that there is the ability to get things done.”Iranian and U.S. officials confirmed that the five Americans, all of whom are U.S.-Iranian dual citizens, have been moved to house arrest. Only three of the five -- Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz -- were identified. The other two did not want their names released.

The circumstances appear to be different now than they were when Rezaian was released in 2016, he said. The United States and other world powers then had just negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal.

"As far as I can tell everyone has tried to separate this deal from anything nuclear related or other security discussions between the U.S. and Iran, but ultimately, I think it can be a step towards further interaction,” said Rezaian, who was Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post when he was put on trial and jailed for espionage -- a charge that he denied.

Rezaian’s release in early 2016 was part of the most recent major prisoner exchange between Washington and Tehran and came as Iran and the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia concluded negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal to restrict its nuclear program in return for the easing of sanctions.Four American captives, including Rezaian, flew home from Iran, and several Iranians in the United States won their freedom.

That same day, the United States airlifted $400 million in cash to Tehran.Relations between the United States and Iran have sunk to new lows in recent years over the continued sanctions, which have contributed to the country's sagging economy.

Unrest over declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support has also wracked the country.The death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for allegedly wearing a mandatory head scarf improperly further fueled the demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures.

U.S.-Iranian relations have also declined due to a failure to revive the Iran nuclear deal.The release of the Americans is part of a larger deal involving $6 billion to $7 billion frozen in South Korea, Iran acknowledged.

The United States declined to confirm the amount of money involved but said it did not concern U.S. taxpayer dollars and denied it was a ransom.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the deal would give Iran access to money in an existing account and there would be "oversight" to ensure that it was used for humanitarian purposes.

Rezaian said that he was relieved by the news that the five Americans had been released from Evin prison, but cautioned that it was not that same as having them home.

“I think there is still a lot that can happen that would get in the way of completing this deal,” he told RFE/RL. “It's not the end of the ordeal for these five Americans and hopefully they are able to return home and return to their families very quickly. But they never should have been subjected to this treatment in the first place."

With reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari
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