Rough & Smooth: Iran Sanctions Lifted; Frees 5 American Prisoners

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International sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S., Europe and the United nations have been lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency announced Iran fulfilled its obligations as outlined by the nuclear deal hammered out by world powers this past summer.

At the same time, 14 months of secret negotiations yielded an agreement for the release of five Americans held by Iran in exchange for seven Iranians detained or indicted in the U.S.  The Iranians, six of whom were dual citizens, were held for sanctions violations and were not involved in terrorism or violence.

In addition, the U.S. agreed to drop charges against 14 Iranians whom they had requested be extradited to the U.S. (According to a U.S. official, those requests were unlikely to have been fulfilled.) 

The former prisoners are expected to arrive Sunday in Germany where they will undergo medical examinations at a U.S. military hospital for a number of days. A family member of one of the former prisoners was told by the U.S. State Department that a plane carrying the Americans had taken off from Iran. Those freed include :

  • Jason Rezaian, Washington Post reporter and Tehran’s bureau chief, whom Iran convicted of being a spy. In a bizarre and secretive trial, Rezaian was tried and sentenced but the sentence was never made public. The State Department called the charges “absurd,” as did the executive director of the Post, who also said the charges were “the product of fertile and twisted imaginations” of Iranian officials. Rezaians’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who is a journalist for the National, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, was also arrested but later released. She was previously not allowed to leave the country but is expected to be able to leave with her husband.
  • Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran and translator, who went to Iran to visit his grandmother and other family members (as he had done twice before). Hekmati was accused of being a spy for the CIA and sentenced to death. Although his conviction was overturned three months later, Hekmati remained imprisoned.
  • Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor from Boise, Idaho, who  was arrested for setting up an orphanage. Abedini, who had visited Iran many times previously, was convicted in 2013 on charges of threatening Iran's national security (due to his alleged participation in home churches).
  • Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, who was unknown until the prisoner release. Khosravi-Roodsari remains a mystery to the international media.
  • Matthew Trevithick, a student, who went to Iran in September to study Dari in a center affiliated with Tehran University. Trevithick was held for 40 days and released separately. He was reported on his way home January 16.

In addition to the prisoner release, Iran committed to cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of another American, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and CIA contractor, who went missing while on a trip to Iran’s Kish Island in the Persian Gulf in 2007. Iran denied having any knowledge of Levinson. Two-year-old pictures of Levinson were broadcast on the Fox News Greta Van Susteren program in 2013. They showed a haggard Levinson with unkempt graying hair and beard in chains and wearing an orange jumpsuit.

The sanctions on Iran were lifted after it was confirmed the Islamic Republic met its obligations as outlined in the nuclear agreement. Those obligations included scaling down different aspects of the Iranian nuclear program — including reducing the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, shipping out of the country already-enriched uranium and dismantling the core of its Arak nuclear reactor. 

Bypassing Congress, U.S. President Barack Obama signed “waiver orders” lifting the sanctions, freeing Iranian assets that were frozen overseas. The crippling sanctions were widespread, affecting Iran’s oil business, banking and trade. Obama chose to utilize the “waiver order” fearing the Republican-majority Congress would not annul the sanctions.

Before sanctions were imposed on Iran in 2012, Iranian oil accounted for one-fifth of all the oil sold in the European market. Even with oil prices at a record low – below $30 a barrel – Iran‘s fledgling economy will be significantly helped by oil sales that will now be possible.

Although some banking markets are wary of doing business with Iran and plan on waiting a year to do so, the freeing of an estimated $50-100 billion in frozen accounts around the world is extremely significant.

One wonders what percentage of those assets will go towards financing and fomenting international terrorism, particularly against the United States and the West.

Although there is great joy the news that Americans who were unfairly imprisoned and brutally treated will finally be free, it is marred by the dark cloud created by the Iranian genie that is now clearly out of the bottle.


Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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