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Iran releases Americans in breakthrough prisoner exchange

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, smiles as he attends a presidential campaign of President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran. A source close to Iran’s judiciary confirmed to The Associated Press, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016 that jailed Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian is one of four dual-national prisoners freed by Iran’s government and previously announced on Iranian state television without naming those released.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Ali Rezaian, far left, the brother of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, rallies with supporters to deliver a petition of 500,000 signatures to Iran’s United Nations mission asking for the release of his brother from prison, in New York. A source close to Iran’s judiciary confirmed to The Associated Press, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016 that jailed Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian is one of four dual-national prisoners freed by Iran’s government and originally announced on Iranian state television without naming those released.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this June 2 file photo, Naghmeh Abedini holds a necklace with a photograph of her husband, Saeed Abedini, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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. 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 cooperating 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.

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  • I sure appreciate the calm approach of the Obama administration to the aggressive militaristic approach of the Bush administration. I know the far right hates to admit this but Obama has generally been right. His calm approach has succeeded in getting Bin Laden, something, GW failed at besides reaching the agreement with Iran.

    • Yep, negotiation will eventually get results, especially with this new nuclear deal in place. Before they would have no incentive to deal with the United States.

      • The military is the Commander-in-Chief of ALL of the armed forces. If he mission had failed, President Obama would have been blamed (remember Jimmy Carter?) I also suspect you might have given credit to GW Bush if it had happened under his watch… but he couldn’t get it done.

        • Since Bin Laden was being hidden by Pakistan on one of their military bases, it’s a miracle we found him at all.If not for the help he received from this supposed ally, which we provide a billion dollars a year in aid, he would have been caught much sooner.

      • Obama made the decision to stage the attack in Pakistan that killed Bin Laden. Bush chickened out and didn’t pursue Bin Laden into Tora Bora. Conceding the battle of Tora Bora was the turning point in the Afghanistan. Everything after Tora Bora was a sunk cost — a trillion dollars and more than 2,300 dead.

  • Now that it has been revealed that there was not a mechanical breakdown, that the 2 Navy boats intentionally invaded Iran’s territorial waters, that when approached by Iranian ships they tried to flee, and that US aircraft invaded Iranian airspace at the same time, all of the Republican chest thumping on the day after the SOTU and the “what would Reagan have done” posturing (perhaps, cut-and-run, like he did in Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing), it’s even more clear with the release of this reporter that Obama dealt with this situation perfectly. In addition, all of Iran’s enriched uranium has been transferred out of the country and the core removed from their reactor that might have been used to enrich it further. Besides, claims that Obama is giving Iran $100B+ are bogus. The funds that are being unfrozen as part of the 6-nation deal to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program belong to Iran and are located in countries around the world.

  • Awwww… I thought there would more teeth gnashing in here over the fact that diplomacy worked again. I guess y’all are waiting for Rush and Breitbart to wake up and get you your talking points so you’ll know how you “feel” about this. Congrats to the President and Senator Kerry for getting this done.

      • Per other news sources, the 7 were imprisoned for violating the Iran embargo, much of which has now been lifted. Six of the 7 are US citizens, some with dual US/Iran citizenship and are free to remain in the US. Seems like a good trade to me. And let’s not forget that NONE of the terrorists involved in 9/11 or events since then have originated from Iran. Most of them originated from Saudi Arabia.

  • The missing Levison a CIA spy probably was tortured and killed, thus his whereabouts are shrouded? As far as the trade in general the USA gave up more than the Iranians. We were suckered.

  • Releasing those prisoners is a Good thing! They want the Deal! And Badly!
    However, I’m a bit sceptical because of Irans integrity…..They have NONE!

    Am i willing to give Peace a chance? Sure! Because Iran Claims their Nuclear aspirations are for peaceful reasons?? Ha!ha!ha!. Of course you along w/Barry you BIT!
    ^ If anyone believes the Iranains will live up to this ludicrous agreement? They are the BIGGER Fools…Like the IAEA,you “BIT” the Apple! Imua

    • It’s 5 prisoners. The separate issue of Iran’s compliance is that it has to be VERIFIED that they are living up to the terms of the agreement. These types of things are done in phases. It would be wise for everyone to wait to see if they do.

    • To judge a prisoner or hostage by counting heads (“US gives more than it gets”) is both simplistic and naive. It doesn’t work like picking teams in a playground basketball game. You have no idea what happened in the negotiations. Look at the history of Israeli exchanges as an example of how a country can value its citizens. In 2011, Israel made a 1 for 1,027 exchange with Hamas.

  • I have a major problem with the pastor who went to Iran to spread Christianity. Like those irresponsible idiots who go to N. Korea to do the same and then burden us/US Gov’t with their captivity and release. Stupid, selfish Nd totally irresponsible.

  • That’s the whole point, yes it is a very good thing that these Americans are coming home, but Iran illegally detained because they have no fear of the president. Then Kerry negotiates with these Iranian thugs and doesn’t mention anything about these hostages. The release comes as a manipulation by the Iranian thugs over the weakness of Obama. The Obamabots feel that this is a prime example of diplomacy skills of the Obama administration, when the world sees this as a light-weight begging for a crumb

  • This is the benefit of a levelheaded, non-jingoistic foreign policy. This is what happens when you treat other nations with some respect instead of engaging in ideologically driven mudslinging. This is the result of no muss, no fuss, Diplomacy “R” Us, No Drama OBAMA.

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