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5 Americans Freed from Iran after $6 Billion Unfrozen in S. Korea

Written: 2023-09-19 13:55:29Updated: 2023-09-19 16:23:53

5 Americans Freed from Iran after $6 Billion Unfrozen in S. Korea

Photo : YONHAP News

Anchor: The government announced on Tuesday that six billion dollars in Iranian funds that were frozen under U.S. sanctions have been released as part of a prisoner swap agreement between Washington and Tehran. U.S. President Joe Biden expressed his gratitude to South Korea and other countries for helping to bring the U.S. citizens home. But as our Kim Bum-soo reports, Tehran appears to have beef with Seoul.

Report: Five Americans and five Iranians imprisoned in Iran and the U.S. have been freed as part of a prisoner exchange.

The five Americans and two of their family members landed in Doha, Qatar on Monday on their way back to the U.S. as some six billion dollars of Iranian funds held in South Korea reached banks in the Qatari capital.

Washington had claimed that the five U.S. citizens were imprisoned on arbitrary charges as the five Iranians in the U.S. were jailed on charges of U.S. sanctions violations.

The swap came after months of indirect negotiations mediated by Qatar.

With U.S. President Joe Biden agreeing to the release of the frozen Iranian assets, Seoul allowed the six billion dollars held in South Korean won for over four years to be converted into euros.

[Sound bite: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken]
"Just a few minutes ago, I had the great pleasure of speaking to seven Americans who are now free... "

As Biden thanked countries involved in the negotiations in a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the release.

[Sound bite: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken]
"As you know, this involved the access by Iran to its own money, money that had accumulated in a Korean bank as the result of oil sales that Iran made, which were lawful at the time those sales were made."

Despite the successful swap, tensions are expected to remain high between Washington and Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program.

[Sound bite: Ali Vaez – Director of the Tehran Project, International Crisis Group]
"All the U.S. is doing is to move assets that were in restricted accounts in Seoul to restricted accounts in Doha, with oversight by the U.S... "

Ali Vaez, director of the Tehran Project at the International Crisis Group says Washington and Iran still have fundamental disagreements.

[Sound bite: Ali Vaez – Director of the Tehran Project, International Crisis Group]
“... It is a deal that is not really resolving the key issues between Iran and the United States, so there are still plenty of points of friction and tensions that could bring down this entire edifice in the coming weeks and months.”

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran sparked friction between South Korea and Iran, a country that Seoul has sought to boost economic ties with.

The ministries of foreign affairs and finance in Seoul issued a joint statement on Tuesday, expressing hope that Seoul’s relations with Tehran will improve after the release of the frozen Iranian funds. 

However, the Central Bank of Iran says that legal action will be pursued against the South Korean government for losses incurred due to the devaluation of the Korean won during the freeze.

The prisoner exchange comes shortly before the UN General Assembly in New York this week, which Iran’s hawkish President Ebrahim Raisi will attend.
Kim Bum-soo, KBS World Radio News.

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