Iran frees 4 US prisoners, gets 7 Iranians back

World Today

Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed AbediniFILE – In this June 2, 2015 file photo, Naghmeh Abedini holds a necklace with a photograph of her husband, Saeed Abedini, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Iran will release four detained Americans in exchange for seven Iranians held or charged in the United States, U.S. and Iranian officials said Saturday in a diplomatic breakthrough announced as implementation of a landmark nuclear deal appeared imminent. A fifth American detained in Iran, a student, was released in a move unrelated to the swap, U.S. officials said.

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 to be flown from Iran to Switzerland aboard a Swiss aircraft and then transported to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for medical treatment, U.S. officials said.

Rezaian’s wife and mother were expected to be on the plane.

CCTV’s Nathan King reports. 

Iran frees 4 US prisoners, gets 7 Iranians back

Iran will release four detained Americans in exchange for seven Iranians held or charged in the United States, U.S. and Iranian officials said Saturday in a diplomatic breakthrough announced as implementation of a landmark nuclear deal appeared imminent. A fifth American detained in Iran, a student, was released in a move unrelated to the swap, U.S. officials said. Nathan King reports.

Jason Rezaian

FILE – In this photo April 11, 2013 file photo, Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for The Washington Post, smiles as he attends a presidential campaign of President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

The student, identified as Matthew Trevithick, was released independently of the exchange on Saturday and already was on his way home, U.S. officials said. They spoke about the prisoner exchange on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

In return, 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 these individuals 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, the officials said.

The announcement of the exchange came as the International Atomic Energy Agency was close to certifying that Iran had met all commitments under the nuclear deal with six world powers.

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 it was expected that such certification could come Saturday.

The release of the prisoners and the nuclear deal developments cap 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.

Iran was known to be holding four Americans. The four were:

—Rezaian, who was born in California and holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship. He was convicted in closed proceedings last year after being charged with espionage and related allegations. The length of his sentence has not been disclosed publicly. The Post and the U.S. government have denied the accusations, as has Rezaian. He was originally detained with his wife in July 2014. She was released on bail in October 2014. Rezaian was the Post’s Tehran correspondent and was accredited to work in the country by the Iranian government.

—Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan. He was detained in August 2011 on espionage charges. His family says he has lost significant weight and has trouble breathing, raising fears he could contact tuberculosis. Hekmati went to Iran to visit family and spend time with his ailing grandmother. After his arrest, his family says they were told to keep matter quiet. He was sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years.

—Pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho. He was detained for compromising national security, presumably because of Christian proselytizing, in September 2012. He was sentenced in 2013 to 8 years in prison. Obama met his wife and children in 2015. There are claims he was beaten in Iranian prison. Abedini was previously arrested in 2009 and released after promising to stop organizing churches in homes. At time of arrest, was running an orphanage in Iran.

—Siamak Namazi, a businessman and the son of a politician from the shah’s era.

Separately, Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran 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 he 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. He has seven children. He suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Obama administration says the Americans come up in every conversation with the Iranians.

Story by the Associated Press