WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans detained for years in Iran arrived home Tuesday, tearfully hugged their loved ones and declared “Freedom!” after being let go as part of a politically risky deal that saw President Joe Biden agree to the release of nearly $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets.
The prisoners landed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, with clapping and cheers heard in the predawn hours. Siamak Namazi, the first off the jet, paused for a moment, closed his eyes and took a deep breath before leaving the plane. Loved ones, some holding small American flags, enveloped them in hugs and exchanged greetings in English and Farsi, the main language of Iran.
“The nightmare is finally over,” Namazi’s brother, Babak, said at the airport.
“We haven’t had this moment is over eight years,” he added, his arm around his brother and his formerly detained father, Baquer, who had been earlier released by Iran. “It’s unbelievable.”
The former prisoners later posed for a group photograph with their families, calling out: “Freedom!”
The successful negotiations for the Americans’ freedom brought Biden profuse thanks from their families but heat from Republican presidential rivals and other opponents for the monetary arrangement with one of America’s top adversaries.
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” the Democratic president said in a statement released as the plane carrying the group from Tehran landed in Doha, Qatar, on Monday.
Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, on hand for the United Nations General Assembly in New York, suggested the exchange could be “a step in the direction of a humanitarian action between us and America.”
“It can definitely help in building trust,” Raisi told journalists.
However, tensions are almost certain to remain high between the US and Iran, which are locked in disputes over Tehran’s nuclear program and other matters. Iran says the program is peaceful, but it now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
he prisoner release unfolded amid a major American military buildup in the Persian Gulf, with the possibility of US troops boarding and guarding commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 per cent of all oil shipments pass.
After the plane slowed to a stop in Doha, three of the prisoners — Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz — emerged.
They hugged the US ambassador to Qatar, Timmy Davis, and others. The three then threw their arms over one another’s shoulders and walked off toward the airport.
In a statement issued on his behalf, Namazi said: “I would not be free today, if it wasn’t for all of you who didn’t allow the world to forget me.”
“Thank you for being my voice when I could not speak for myself and for making sure I was heard when I mustered the strength to scream from behind the impenetrable walls of Evin Prison,” he said.
The United States did not immediately identify the other two freed Americans. All were released in exchange for five Iranians in US custody and for the deal over the frozen Iranian assets owed by South Korea. The Biden administration said the five freed Iranians pose no threat to US national security.