By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Iranian officials have identified five individuals in U.S. custody whom Tehran would like handed over as part of a possible 10-person, $6 billion prisoner swap initially said to have been mapped out last month between the longtime foes.
They include three Iranians — Mehrdad Ansari, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, and Kambiz Attar Kashani — charged with illegally obtaining advanced or potentially dual-use technology thought to be bound for Iran that has been under tightly reimposed U.S. sanctions since 2018. Two others — Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi and Amin Hasanzadeh — were jailed for failing to register as a foreign agent and stealing engineering plans on behalf of Iran, respectively.
AP said Ali Karimi Magham, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, confirmed the five men’s identities after the Al-Monitor website published their names.
The U.S. State Department has not officially commented on the Iranian list.
Previous reporting has identified three of the five individuals that the U.S. side wants in an exchange as two Iranian-American businessmen accused by Tehran of spying, Siamak Namazi and Emad Sharghi, along with similarly accused British-American environmentalist Morad Tahbaz.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on September 12 that the five U.S. citizens in Iranian custody who are expected to be part of the swap are “in full health,” according to NBC as quoted by Reuters.
“They are very healthy and, according to our latest information, they are in full health,” Raisi told Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News in an interview taped in Tehran on September 12, the U.S. television network said.
U.S. officials on September 11 confirmed that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had signed off on a sanctions waiver to allow billions in frozen Iranian assets to be transferred from South Korea to Qatar, presumably as part of the swap, and informed Congress of the plan.
Tehran had indicated earlier that it believed a swap was imminent, although it sought to decouple the asset handover from the prisoner deal.
The Biden administration has insisted in the face of Republican and other criticism that the assets involved are neither U.S. taxpayer dollars nor a ransom.
Critics argue that the freed-up assets could throw a lifeline to an Iranian economy buffeted by U.S. sanctions with Tehran continuing its belligerent behavior in the region.
“The money can only be used for humanitarian purposes and we will remain vigilant in watching the spending of those funds and have the ability to freeze them again if we need to,” Reuters quoted State Department spokesman Matthew Miller as saying on September 12.
Iranian security forces have taken some 40 foreign nationals into custody during a current wave of unrest, often without revealing any charges.
Western countries have repeatedly said that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage to use in prisoner swaps.
Republican President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from a three-year-old deal between world powers and Iran to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Aside from the diplomatic and economic fallout, observers since then have attributed a series of ship seizures and attacks in the crucial Strait of Hormuz region to Tehran.
The Pentagon is said to be weighing a plan to put U.S. troops aboard commercial ships in the region, which is a conduit for around one-fifth of all global oil shipments.
Tehran has also cooperated with Russia in the Middle East in addition to supplying Moscow with crucial attack drones to further the Kremlin’s war plans in Ukraine.