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The United States has agreed to give Iran access to $6 billion in currently frozen Iranian oil revenue currently held in South Korea, media reported on Thursday—in exchange for the release of five Americans imprisoned in Iran.
Iran has released five Iranian/American dual citizens, which now remain under house arrest in a hotel in Tehran. The prisoners will be held in the hotel for weeks until they can board an airplane to return to the United States.
A lawyer for one of the prisoners cautioned that “there are simply no guarantees about what happens from here.”
White House officials have not confirmed what they gave Iran in exchange for the prisoner release, but anonymous sources familiar with the matter suggested that when the Americans are finally allowed to return home, several Iranian nationals doing time for violating sanctions will be released from prison. In addition to the prisoner release, the White House will also arrange a transfer of $6 billion of Iranian oil revenues that are currently being held in South Korea to a bank in Qatar. The money will be controlled by the government of Qatar, which will make sure Iran only uses the money to pay vendors for purchases related to humanitarian needs, like medicine and food.
The deal has been in the works for weeks, according to people familiar with the negotiations, which were mediated by Oman, Qatar, and Switzerland.
The Americans will not be allowed to return home until the oil money—which can only be used for humanitarian purposes—is in the Qatari bank account.
According to the Iran director for the International Crisis Group, Ali Vaez, “All Iran can do under this deal is submit orders to a bank in Doha for food and medicine and a limited number of medical equipment that do not have dual military use. The bank in Doha would pay for the goods, and Qatari companies would deliver them to Iran. Iran has no direct access to the funds at all.”
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com
Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group.