Iran Identifies Prisoners for Potential Swap with US
Iran has officially identified the five prisoners it hopes to see released in the United States as part of a potential prisoner swap. This development comes as the Biden administration has issued a waiver allowing international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money from South Korea to Qatar without fear of US sanctions. The moves by both Tehran and Washington suggest that the prisoner exchange is progressing, as the funds are converted into euros and moved to Qatar for humanitarian purposes.
List of Iranian Prisoners
Ali Karimi Magham, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, confirmed the list of prisoners that Tehran wants released. The five individuals sought by Iran are:
1. Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi: Afrasiabi was charged in 2021 with allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent on Iran’s behalf while lobbying US officials on issues like nuclear policy.
2. Mehrdad Ansari: Ansari was sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons, and other military gear.
3. Amin Hasanzadeh: Hasanzadeh, an Iranian and permanent resident of the United States, was charged in 2019 with allegedly stealing engineering plans from his employer to send to Iran.
4. Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani: Kafrani was charged in 2021 for allegedly unlawfully exporting laboratory equipment to Iran.
5. Kambiz Attar Kashani: Kashani, an Iranian-American, was sentenced in February to 30 months in prison for purchasing “sophisticated, top-tier US electronic equipment and software” through front companies in the United Arab Emirates.
On the US side, Washington seeks the release of three individuals:
1. Siamak Namazi: Namazi was detained in Iran in 2015 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison on internationally criticized spying charges.
2. Emad Sharghi: Sharghi is a venture capitalist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
3. Morad Tahbaz: Tahbaz is a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent who was arrested in 2018 and also received a 10-year sentence.
The fourth and fifth prisoners sought by the US were not identified. All five individuals are currently under house arrest at a hotel in Tehran.
Criticism and Tensions
The possibility of a prisoner exchange has faced criticism from US Republicans, particularly amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its nuclear program and a series of ship seizures and attacks attributed to Tehran. In response, the Pentagon is considering a plan to deploy US troops on board commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway through which 20 percent of all oil shipments pass. Additionally, a major deployment of US sailors and Marines, along with F-35s, F-16s, and other military aircraft, is currently underway in the region. Meanwhile, Iran continues to supply Russia with bomb-carrying drones used in its war in Ukraine.
The identification of the prisoners by Iran marks a significant step forward in the potential prisoner swap between Iran and the US. As the Biden administration facilitates the transfer of frozen Iranian funds, it appears that progress is being made towards securing the release of the detained individuals. However, the exchange faces criticism and takes place against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the region. The coming days will reveal whether both sides can reach an agreement that satisfies all parties involved.