US doubles down on holding Iran accountable despite prisoner release

Four American citizens held in Evin prison were released into house arrest last week

The entrance to Evin prison in Tehran, where four American citizens had been held. Reuters
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The US State Department on Monday said that continuing negotiations with Iran that have so far led to the release of four Americans from prison to house arrest in Tehran are “unrelated” to any other issue, including Iran's nuclear programme.

“This is a positive step in our hope and desire for these American citizens to be able to come home but it is not linked to any other issue,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said during a regular briefing.

“And we have not changed any aspect of our overall approach to Iran, whether it be their nuclear programme – our belief continues and our goal continues to be that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Mr Patel also played down the release of billions in Iranian state funds in South Korea.

At the weekend, Iranian state media reported that the prisoners would be released in exchange for the unfreezing of $6 billion in state funds held in South Korea.

The funds were frozen in September 2019 under the administration of former president Donald Trump, who pulled sanctions waivers on countries importing oil from Iran.

Mr Patel said that money is intended for humanitarian use and would be subject to “rigorous restrictions”.

“The reason these funds are in South Korea in the first place is because the previous administration allowed several countries to continue purchasing oil from Iran and to place those funds in special accounts,” he said.

“These funds have been available to Iran to use for humanitarian transactions like food and medicine since the previous administration. This money will be subjected to the same rigorous restrictions once it moves out of South Korea.”

At the White House on Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed these sentiments, saying: “Just to be even more clear, what is being discussed isn't a payment of any kind.

“What's being pursued here is an arrangement where in the Iranian people can, with the oversight of the US Treasury Department, Qatar and aid organisations, avail themselves of Iranian funds that had been held in a South Korean account since 2018.

“We have not changed any aspect of our overall approach as it relates to Iran, which continues to be focused on deterrence, pressure and diplomacy.”

Under the emerging deal, businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Shargi, 58, were released along with environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also has British citizenship.

The fourth American citizen's identity has not been made public.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 9:31 PM