The US government has reportedly granted waivers to foreign banks, allowing them to release around $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets as part of a prisoner swap arrangement. This arrangement would involve the release of several Iranians in exchange for Americans held in Iran. Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved these waivers, stating that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive sanctions.
Under these waivers, Iran will be able to access funds that were previously frozen under US penalties in Qatar and South Korea. However, US officials have indicated that there will be limitations on how these assets can be used. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated that the funds would only be available for food, medicine, and medical equipment that do not have a dual military use. He also emphasized that there will be a rigorous process in place to ensure compliance.
The White House has confirmed that there are currently five Americans in custody in Iran, all of whom are under house arrest. Four of them were recently released from Tehran’s Evin Prison. The identities of three detainees, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi, have been revealed, while the others have requested anonymity. Sources familiar with the negotiations cited by the Associated Press have suggested that the detainees could be released as early as next week. However, NSC official Adrienne Watson emphasized that the talks are ongoing and sensitive, and no individuals will be released into US custody this week.
This prisoner swap arrangement comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf. The United States has recently ordered military deployments to the region, including F-35 fighter jets and a guided-missile destroyer. 3,000 American marines and sailors have also been stationed in the region to deter Iranian forces. The US Navy has accused Iran of harassment and seizures of merchant vessels.
It is worth noting that Tehran has repeatedly called for an end to US economic penalties, which were intensified under former President Donald Trump. The penalties were imposed after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, the US, and other world powers. While talks to restore the nuclear pact in exchange for sanctions relief have stalled, the US has expressed its willingness to welcome any steps by Iran to scale down its nuclear program.
Overall, the grant of waivers for foreign banks to release frozen Iranian assets as part of a prisoner swap arrangement represents a significant development in US-Iran relations. While the details of the arrangement are still being worked out, it is hoped that it will lead to the release of Americans held in Iran and contribute to the de-escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf.