Iran released four US citizens on Saturday in exchange for seven Iranians held by the US, as diplomats gathered in Vienna to announce the lifting of crippling economic sanctions against Iran, bringing the country of 80 million back to the world stage.
The four Americans freed include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was convicted by Iran of espionage and held since 2014. Iranian state television said that the others were Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosravi.
The prisoner swap in particular highlights a thawing of relations between Iran, the US, and other global powers, coming at a time when the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to announce Iran’s compliance with last year’s nuclear deal.
Implementation of the nuclear deal under the auspices of the IAEA marks the greatest re-entry of the former pariah state into world commerce since the end of the Cold War.
Hammering out the nuclear deal has also been a defining initiative for both US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Both leaders faced strong opposition from hardliners at home in countries which have called each other “The Great Satan” and “the axis of evil.”
Obama, who is in his final year of presidency in the US, has been opposed in the deal by all Republican candidates vying for the presidency later this year. And US-Iranian hostility still remains entrenched, as the US maintains its own, separate sanctions on Iran’s missile program.
For Rouhani, it marks a crowning achievement for the moderate cleric who was elected in 2013 on the promise to bring Iran out of isolation.
“Today is a good day for the Iranian people as sanctions will be lifted today,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a statement.
“It’s now time for all – especially Muslim nations – to join hands and rid the world of violent extremism. Iran is ready,” Zarif tweeted on Saturday.