Less than a week after detaining 10 American sailors, Iran has released 4 Americans prisoners. Pastor Saeed Abedini, Washington Post reporter Jason Razaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and Nosratollah Khosravi are now in Switzerland awaiting their return to the United States.
In exchange, the US provided clemency to seven Iranians who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States. Additionally, the US also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians previously sought but not yet in US custody.
Of course, there’s also that little matter of $150 billion the US is giving to Iran to “bring its nuclear program in line.”
From Fox News this morning,
Four Americans held in Iran, including a Christian pastor, a former U.S. Marine and a Washington Post reporter, have been freed in a prisoner swap also involving seven Iranians held in the U.S. for violating international sanctions, a U.S. official confirmed Saturday.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, Washington Post reporter Jason Razaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and Nosratollah Khosravi were freed in the dramatic exchange that comes as crippling sanctions on Iran are set to be lifted following years of negotiations to brig Iran’s nuclear program into UN compliance.
“This has been an answer to prayer,” said Naghmeh Abedini, who has tirelessly sought her 35-year-old husband’s release, testifying before lawmakers in Washington and even pressing her case directly to President Obama. “We look forward to Saeed’s return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time.”
It was not yet clear wen the Americans could return to the U.S. Sources who have been in contact with Abedini told FoxNews.com he was suddenly taken from his prison cell by intelligence police to Iran’s Central Intelligence Office before being released.
The announcement, which first came via Iranian state television, was later confirmed by a U.S. official.
“Through a diplomatic channel that was established with the focus of getting our detained U.S. citizens home, we can confirm Iran has released from imprisonment four Americans detained in Iran,” the official said. “We offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States.”
The U.S. also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians previously sought but not in U.S. custody.
The deal comes amid reports the International Atomic Energy Agency was close to certifying that Iran had met all commitments under the landmark nuclear deal with six world powers. The deal would end sanctions against Iran and free more than $100 billion in the nation’s frozen assets.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting in Vienna with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other officials involved in the accord, and official confirmation from the two governments was expected Saturday.
Rezaian, 39, the Post’s Tehran-based correspondent, was convicted in closed proceedings last year after being charged with espionage and related allegations. The Post and the U.S. government have denied the accusations. Rezaian was initially arrested in July 2014 with his wife and two photojournalists, but the other three were freed shortly afterward.
Kris Coratti, spokeswoman for The Washington Post, said, “while we are hopeful, we have not received any official word of Jason’s release.”
Hekmati, 32, of Flint, Michigan, was arrested in August 2011, accused of being a spy. His family says he was in Tehran to visit his ailing grandmother and had received permission to make the visit from the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C. Initially convicted of spying and sentenced to death, the initial verdict was overturned and Hekmati was instead given 10 years.
Hekmati’s lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, said Hekmati called him earlier Saturday from prison.
“He told me that judiciary officials have called for a meeting with him. But I’ve not been formally informed if he is free now,” he said, adding that negotiations for the prisoners’ release have been going on for the past two months.
Abedini was trying to build a secular orphanage in his homeland when he was arrested in September of 2012. A native of Iran, he had made frequent trips back to the Islamic Republic to see members of his family, even after converting to Christianity. He had previously been in trouble with Iranian authorities for allegedly organizing Christian gatherings in private homes as part of an underground movement.
“We’re delighted this day has finally arrived,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law & Justice, which has represented Abedini’s Boise, Idaho, family since his arrest. “Pastor Saeed should never been imprisoned in the first place. He spent more than three years in an Iranian prison. We’re grateful for the millions of people who have stood with us in our ongoing efforts – both in this country and abroad – to secure his release.”
The release of prisoners does not appear to include Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent last seen in Iran but whose status is unknown. The 67-year-old disappeared in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission. American officials are unsure if the former FBI agent is even still alive. Iranian officials deny knowing where he is. Levinson traveled to Kish island and checked into hotel, purportedly investigating cigarette smuggling. He met U.S. fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, the last man known to see him.
The CIA family paid Levinson’s family over $2 million and some staffers lost their jobs over his unauthorized work. A proof of life video surfaced in 2011, saying Levinson was held by a group. His family received photos that year, too, of Levinson bearded, shackled, wearing orange jumpsuit and holding signs in broken English.
As part of the deal announced Saturday, Iran also agreed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Levinson.