On Saturday, United States officials confirmed that Iran freed five prisoners in a prison swap. Four of these prisoners are dual US-Iran citizens, who include Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian along with Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. Student and writer Matthew Trevithick also found freedom. This news confirms initial Iranian media reports and arrives after months of secret negotiations between the two countries.
The timing of this news also points towards a probable announcement by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, which will decide whether sanctions (including the freezing of $100 billion in assets) will be lifted on Iran. These restrictions were part of last July’s nuclear deal, and “Implementation Day” is a virtual certainty. Neither the U.S. nor Iranian officials have formally mentioned this impending event as the reason for the swap, but it’s a good guess to what was behind 14 months of secret negotiations.
The Washington Post released a statement about Rezaian’s release, saying the paper “couldn’t be happier” and will release more information once they confirm Rezaian is safely out of the country. However, the deal did not include every detainee the U.S. hoped to free:
Not included in the deal was Siamak Namazi, a Dubai-based oil company executive who had promoted closer U.S.-Iranian ties, Iranian officials said. He was arrested in October while visiting a friend in Tehran. In addition, the fate of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in March 2007 during a visit to Iran’s Kish Island, remains unknown.
U.S. officials say Iran has denied holding Levinson and will cooperate in further searches to locate the agent. Levinson served with the FBI for two decades and was last seen on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007. At the time of his disappearance, the U.S. denied he was on assignment, but Levinson’s family later told the press he “was, in fact, working as a freelance ‘spy’ for a rogue CIA operation” involving Iran’s nuclear program.
Following the Saturday announcement, Levinson’s family issued a statement saying, “Once again, Bob Levinson has been left behind. We are devastated.” The U.S. is expected to release several Iranian prisoners as part of the swap.