Prisoner exchange eases tensions as U.S., Iran explore smoother relations

VIENNA -- Four Americans and seven Iranians got tickets to freedom in a prisoner swap playing out alongside the kick-start of an accord lifting heavy international sanctions on Iran in return for its agreement to pull back its nuclear program.

See Full Article

A fifth American was released separately.

The negotiated exchange eases one leading irritant as the two countries gingerly explore prospects for a smoother relationship after decades of hostility -- even as they remain sharply at odds on other fronts.

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.

The four Americans released in Iran under the negotiated prisoner exchange were still in that country Sunday as arrangements progressed to get them out, said a senior Obama administration official. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, the official said efforts were underway to get the four together and on a plane out of Tehran.

Kerry said the Americans had been released from Iranian custody.

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's parents said he was freed after 40 days at a prison in Tehran. They did not say why Iran detained him. Trevithick, who is from Hingham, Massachusetts, co-founded a research centre based in Turkey that assesses the humanitarian crisis in the area and travelled to Iran in September for a four-month language program.

Republican presidential candidates had slammed the Obama administration for striking the multinational nuclear deal with Iran while Americans were held captive. They welcomed news that the Americans were coming home but offered little to no credit to the president for the negotiations that secured the freedom of the prisoners.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton also embraced the developments while saying Iran should not be thanked because it should never have detained the Americans. Her rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, offered unreserved praise for the diplomacy.

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 Modanlo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahraman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboonchi.

Dareini reported from Tehran, Iran; Lee reported from Washington. Darlene Superville, 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

  • Human rights groups decry Philippine president's threat to bomb schools

    World News CBC News
    Human rights groups asked the Philippine president Wednesday to retract a threat to order airstrikes against tribal schools he accused of teaching students to become communist rebels, warning such an attack would constitute a war crime. Source
  • 'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli won't stop talking, except to jury in trial

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli says on social media that he's being railroaded at his securities fraud trial, but he won't be defending himself in court. Jurors heard testimony from the government's last witness on Tuesday, a day after a lawyer for the former biotech CEO told the court that his client had chosen not to take the witness stand. Source
  • Ohio set to end 3-year hiatus with execution of child killer

    World News CTV News
    LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- Ohio is preparing to put a condemned child killer to death in the state's first execution in more than three years. Forty-three-year-old Ronald Phillips is scheduled to die Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Source
  • Rights groups ask Duterte to retract threat to bomb schools

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines -- Human rights groups asked the Philippine president Wednesday to retract a threat to order airstrikes against tribal schools he accused of teaching students to become communist rebels, warning such an attack would constitute a war crime. Source
  • Wild New Zealand rabbits surf on sheep to escape floodwaters

    World News CTV News
    WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Three wild rabbits managed to escape rising floodwaters in New Zealand by clambering aboard a flock of sheep and surfing to safety on their woolly backs. Sixty-four-year-old Ferg Horne says he's been farming since he left school at age 15 and has never seen anything quite like it. Source
  • Orca whale repeatedly rams fishing boat, Alaska man says

    World News Toronto Sun
    SITKA, Alaska — An Alaska man said his boat was attacked over the weekend by an orca during a salmon fishing excursion with his 14-year-old son and two other people. Victor Littlefield of Sitka said the killer whale repeatedly rammed the boat, yanked its anchor line and slapped the boat’s bow with its tail. Source
  • Man accused of smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES — A man was arrested on federal smuggling charges Tuesday after customs officers intercepted a shipment with three live king cobras hidden inside potato chip canisters that were being mailed to his California home, U.S. Source
  • Europe rights court: Sex still important for older women

    World News CTV News
    LISBON, Portugal -- Judges in Portugal were guilty of sexual discrimination in a medical compensation case when they decided that the importance of sex diminished with the age of a woman, Europe's human rights court ruled in a judgment published Tuesday. Source
  • Toronto courier company offers work, support to those with developmental disabilities

    Canada News CTV News
    For many people with developmental disabilities, finding a full-time job that provides the necessary support is a major challenge. It’s estimated that more than 70 per cent of Canadian adults with developmental disabilities are unemployed, according to Statistics Canada. Source
  • Australia's highest-ranking Catholic in court to face sex charges

    World News CBC News
    The most senior Vatican official ever charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis made his first court appearance in Australia on Wednesday in a scandal that has stunned the Holy See and threatened to tarnish the pope's image as a crusader against abusive clergy. Source