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.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Philippine leader Duterte says he wants foreign troops out

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking in a country that hosts 50,000 U.S. troops, said Wednesday that he wants his country to be free of foreign troops, possibly within two years. "I want to be friends to China," he told an audience of businesspeople in Tokyo. Source
  • Afghan official: Taliban insurgents abduct, kill 20 people

    World News CTV News
    KABUL -- Taliban insurgents have killed at least 20 Afghan civilians after abducting them in the remote central province of Ghor the previous day, officials said Wednesday. The slain civilians were from a group of 33 taken by the militants near the provincial capital of Ferozkoh, according to Ziauddin Saqib, the deputy provincial police chief. Source
  • Pakistan city shuts down, mourns 61 killed at police academy

    World News CTV News
    QUETTA, Pakistan - Pakistan's city of Quetta is in shutdown following a militant rampage at a police academy this week and funerals are underway as families bury some of the 61 people killed in the attack. Source
  • Amid shouting and jeering, Trudeau insists on a little etiquette

    Canada News CBC News
    "You're acting like Harper!" yelled one member of the crowd, drawing out the former prime minister's surname. Justin Trudeau was explaining his consideration of the Trans Pacific Partnership. And now the voice of outrage had gifted the prime minister a chance to score a point. Source
  • Unregulated 'internet of things' industry puts us all at risk, security experts say

    Canada News CBC News
    Last Friday's massive cyberattacks should serve as a "wake-up call" and a warning to consumers that smart devices designed to make our lives more convenient are also making us unsafe, security analysts warn. Source
  • Ontario nursing homes must report all deaths to coroner, but autopsy optional

    Canada News CBC News
    Shocking accusations that a nurse murdered eight elderly patients in nursing homes in southwestern Ontario are prompting questions about the province's role in regulating nurses and monitoring long-term care homes. Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer, 49, was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday. Source
  • Shoppers' bid for pot business shows Ottawa needs to get rolling on drug rules: Don Pittis

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada is in danger of getting smoked by the competition because the marijuana industry isn't waiting for government legislation. American companies know it, and now Shoppers Drug Mart has shown it knows it too. A public request by Shoppers to sell pot in its stores shows the "pusher" stigma has begun to fade. Source
  • How Canada sucks at reducing food waste

    Canada News CBC News
    France has made it illegal for supermarkets to waste food, and Italy is offering tax breaks when businesses donate leftovers. But a policy that addresses food waste in Canada won't be in place any time soon. Source
  • Ugly questions loom after look at U.S. Justice Department's police racism files: Neil Macdonald

    World News CBC News
    Anyone tempted to dismiss the angry, in-your-face tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement — "What's their problem, anyway? Don't all lives matter?" — should spend a little time browsing the special litigation section of the U.S. Source
  • Don't elect a 'do-nothing' Congress: Obama urges voters to pick Democrats in down ballot races

    World News CBC News
    Now that it looks like Donald Trump will end up with the silver medal in next month's presidential election, Washington political chatter is turning away from the race for the White House and toward "down ballot" races. Source