US to unfreeze $6 billion in Iran prisoner swap deal – media

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According to reports, the US administration has granted waivers to foreign banks to release $6 billion in blocked Iranian assets as part of a prisoner swap agreement in which many Iranians would be released in return for Americans jailed in the Islamic Republic.

According to the Associated Press and other news sites, Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the approvals last week, citing a State Department notice to Congress. The waiver will allow Iran to access funds previously frozen by US sanctions in Qatar and South Korea, with Blinken adding that it would be “in the national security interest of the United States to waive the imposition of sanctions.”

“The US has committed to releasing five Iranian nationals currently detained in the US and to allowing the transfer of approximately $6 billion in Iranian funds held in restricted accounts in the ROK [Republic of Korea] to restricted accounts in Qatar, where the funds will be available only for humanitarian trade,” according to the notice.

According to US officials, the assets would be subject to certain conditions. National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby told reporters last month that the funding would only be available for “food, medicine, [and] medical equipment that would not have a dual military use.” He stated that a “rigorous process” will be in place to enforce compliance.

The White House has verified that five Americans are being held in Iran and that they are all under house detention, with four recently released from Tehran’s Evin Prison. Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi have been named as three of the detainees, while the others have requested anonymity.

The detainees could be released as early as next week, according to sources familiar with the negotiations cited by AP. NSC official Adrienne Watson said the talks remain a “sensitive and ongoing process,” but added that “no individuals have been or will be released into US custody this week.”

Tehran has frequently demanded an end to US economic sanctions, which were increased under US President Donald Trump, who withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran, the US, and other world powers. While talks to restart the nuclear deal in exchange for sanctions relief have mostly frozen, Kirby has stated that the US would welcome any steps taken by Iran to reduce its nuclear program.

The looming prisoner swap agreement comes amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf, where Washington has ordered a flurry of military deployments in recent weeks, including F-35 fighter fighters, a guided-missile destroyer, and other warships. According to the US Navy, 3,000 American marines and sailors were stationed in the region last month to dissuade Iranian forces.