Iran releases Americans in breakthrough prisoner exchange

VIENNA -- Four Americans detained in Iran will be coming home and seven Iranians in U.S. custody also will win their freedom in a breakthrough swap negotiated by the longtime foes, officials in both countries said.

See Full Article

As well, a fifth American was freed separately.

The news emerged as a landmark deal took effect Saturday relieving sanctions on Iran in return for its progress in pulling back its nuclear program.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose name had not been previously made public, were freed from custody in Iran and were to be flown to Switzerland, U.S. officials said. U.S. student Matthew Trevithick was released independently of the exchange on Saturday and already was on his way home.

In turn, the U.S. will pardon or drop charges against seven Iranians -- six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens -- accused or convicted of violating U.S. sanctions.

Three were serving prison terms and now have received a commutation or pardon. Three others were awaiting trial; the last one made a plea agreement.

It's unclear if they will leave the U.S. for Iran. They are free to stay in the United States.

In addition, the U.S. will drop Interpol "red notices" -- essentially arrest warrants -- on 14 Iranian fugitives it has sought, officials said.

The announcement of the exchange came shortly before Iran was certified as having met all commitments under the nuclear deal with six world powers.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other officials involved in the accord met in Vienna as the diplomatic achievement unfolded.

The release of the prisoners and the nuclear deal developments capped weeks of intense U.S.-Iran diplomacy that took several unexpected turns after an Iranian ballistic missile test in October and then the detention on Jan. 12 by Iran of 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats in the Persian Gulf.

Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., publisher of The Washington Post, said in a statement, "We couldn't be happier to hear the news that Jason Rezaian has been released from Evin Prison. Once we receive more details and can confirm Jason has safely left Iran, we will have more to share."

Hekmati's family released a statement saying: "We thank everyone for your thoughts during this time. There are still many unknowns. At this point, we are hoping and praying for Amir's long-awaited return."

Trevithick, the student from Hingham, Massachusetts, went to Iran in September for a four-month language program at an institute associated with Tehran University, his family said in a statement. It said he was held for 40 days in Evin Prison, but gave no reason for his detention.

Negotiations over detainees grew out of the Iran nuclear talks. In discussions in Europe and elsewhere, Kerry and nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman were able to establish a separate channel of talks that would focus on the U.S. citizens.

American officials didn't want the citizens used as leverage in the nuclear talks, and didn't want to lose their possible release if the talks failed to produce an agreement.

The discussions then gained speed after last July's nuclear deal. In talks in Geneva and elsewhere, a team led by Obama's anti-Islamic State group envoy, Brett McGurk, worked on the details of a possible prisoner swap. The Iranians originally sought 19 people as part of the exchange; U.S. officials whittled down the number to seven.

Among American politicians, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and House Speaker Paul Ryan gave cautious praise to the release of the prisoners, particularly Abedini, but said they never should have been held in the first place. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders praised diplomacy as the key to solving the detainee issue. Hillary Clinton also welcomed the developments while saying Iran should not be thanked because it should never have detained the Americans.

Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission, wasn't part of the deal. American officials are unsure if the former FBI agent is even still alive. The Iranians have always denied knowing his location.

Levinson's case was aggressively pursued, officials said, adding that Iran has committed to continue co-operating in trying to determine Levinson's whereabouts.

The exchange also didn't cover Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who advocated better ties between Iran and the U.S. He was thought to have been arrested in October.

According to the official IRNA news agency, the seven freed Iranians are Nader Modanloo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahraman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboonchi. It didn't provide any further details.

The lawyer for Mechanic, who has been jailed since his indictment last April on charges of illegally exporting microelectronics technology to Iran, said his client was "elated" to be pardoned.

"He's been incarcerated for nine months for a crime that he's just accused of but did not commit," said lawyer Joel Androphy. "To me, it's just an injustice. You would expect this in some third-world country, not the United States." The Justice Department uses the spelling of 'Mechanic' in court filings.

------

Dareini reported from Tehran, Iran; Lee reported from Washington. Donna Cassata and Eric Tucker in Washington, Amy Anthony in Providence, Rhode Island, Adam Schreck in Dubai and George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Father and son killed in head-on collision with each other

    World News CTV News
    WINFIELD, Ala. -- Authorities say a father and son have been killed in a head-on collision with each other in Fayette County, Alabama. Alabama state troopers say alcohol is a factor in the crash that killed 50-year-old Jeffrey Morris Brasher and 22-year-old Austin Blaine Brasher. Source
  • Trump administration working on trans bathroom guidelines

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration is working on a new set of directives on the use of school bathrooms by transgender students, the White House said Tuesday. The announcement alarmed LGBT groups across the country that have urged President Donald Trump to safeguard Obama-era guidelines allowing students to use school restrooms that match their gender identity, not their assigned gender at birth. Source
  • Teen boys allegedly shot 14-year-old girl in head over greed

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOGAN, Utah — Two teenage boys charged with shooting a 14-year-old girl in the back of the head and leaving her wounded in a ditch lured her to the spot in a small Utah town with a plan to rob and kill her, prosecutors said Tuesday. Source
  • Rescuers pluck people from flooded northern California neighbourhood

    World News CBC News
    Rescuers chest-deep in water steered boats full of people, some with babies and pets, on Tuesday from a San Jose, Calif., neighbourhood inundated by water from an overflowing creek. At least 225 residents were taken to dry land and rinsed with soap and water to prevent them from being sickened by floodwaters that had travelled through engine fuel, garbage, debris and over sewer lines, San Jose Fire Capt. Source
  • Court ruling forces end to probe into police misconduct in B.C. city

    Canada News CTV News
    VICTORIA - British Columbia's police complaints commissioner is dropping an investigation into more than 100 misconduct allegations against police officers in Abbotsford. The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner said in a statement that it is discontinuing the investigations because court decisions prevent the office from accessing key information it needs to probe the allegations. Source
  • Regina landlord frustrated about lack of refugees in neighbourhood

    Canada News CTV News
    A Regina landlord is frustrated that refugees seem to be avoiding a neighbourhood he says he has enough trouble getting locals to consider. Jason Hall has 95 houses in the North Central part of Saskatchewan’s capital. Source
  • Bank robber who used hostage as shield gets life sentence

    World News Toronto Sun
    FRESNO, Calif. — A California bank robber who used a hostage as a human shield in a deadly shootout with police following the heist and a wild car chase was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison during an emotional hearing. Source
  • Missouri bill would limit transgender school bathroom access

    World News CTV News
    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri lawmakers are considering a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender children in public schools, despite a backlash that North Carolina faced over a broader law limiting bathroom use in all public buildings. Source
  • Bull on loose in NYC leads cops on wild chase [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — A cow that apparently escaped from a slaughterhouse has led police on a wild chase through New York City streets. Police corralled the animal in a backyard in Jamaica, Queens, after a chase that lasted more than an hour. Source
  • No evidence shots fired at Houston hospital: Reports

    World News Toronto Sun
    HOUSTON — The police chief in Houston says no one has been found injured and there’s no evidence of a shooting amid reports that shots were fired inside the hospital at the Texas Medical Center. Chief Art Acevedo says his officers were making a second search of Ben Taub Hospital, one of the city’s major trauma centres. Source