Plane carrying four freed Americans leaves Iran

Plane carrying four American-Iranian dual citizens takes off from Tehran and travels to Bern while US and Iranian planes wait in Geneva

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Official US and Iranian planes park side by side at the Geneva airport as a Swiss plane carrying four American prisoners leaves Tehran.

Four Iranian-American citizens freed by Iran in a prisoner swap with the United States have left Tehran and are flying to Bern in Switzerland, Iranian state television reported on Sunday.

The Iranian government announced the release of the prisoners on Saturday a few hours before the implementation of Tehran’s nuclear deal with six world powers known as the P5+1.

Iranian state TV announced on Sunday that all four former detainees were on the plane but the US says only three of them were on the plane.

US officials said Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former US Marine Amir Hekmati, and pastor Saeed Abedini were on the flight, but not Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. However, Iran said he was on the plane as well.

A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was also released on Saturday, though his release was unrelated to the prisoner swap deal between the two countries.

The P5+1 is a group of six world powers (namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany) which in 2006 joined together in negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.

Rezaian was released Evin Prison in Tehran and has left Iran, the Washington Post confirmed in a statement on Sunday.

The Post also said it was "pleased to see that Iran released four other Americans," without giving further details.

Thirty nine-year-old dual US-Iranian citizen Rezaian was detained in Iran on July 22, 2014.

Amir Hekmati is a former US Marine who was facing a death sentence in Iran as an alleged spy.

"Today, our brother, son and friend Amir Hekmati has been released from Iran. We have now been officially told that he is on a plane leaving the country," his family said in a statement.

"It is hard to put into words what our family feels right now. But we remain in hopeful anticipation until Amir is in our arms," they added.

The prisoner swap involves Washington pardoning seven Iranians accused of sanctions-busting.

US to release seven Iranians

Iranian state television said the seven Iranians - Nader Modanlou, Baharam Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh, and Ali Saboonchi - "will be freed today [Sunday]."

The seven Iranians were held in the US on charges of violating sanctions regulations, including Nima Golestaneh, who is allegedly an Iranian hacker.

The UN nuclear watchdog announced late on Saturday that Iran had complied with its side of the July 2015 accord, allowing the lifting of sanctions.

Ban Ki-moon commends improving ties

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed on Sunday the exchange of prisoners by the UN and Iran and the lifting of sanctions against Tehran, saying the two countries should now cooperate on additional challenges to find "a safer future."

"I commend the moves by the governments of both countries to improve ties. I am also heartened by the lifting of sanctions against Iran," he said on a visit to Dubai, adding he hoped the parties honoured a nuclear deal that made possible the lifting of curbs.

"Now is the moment to push for cooperation on other pressing challenges through dialogue which should continue to find a way for a safer future," he said.

TRTWorld and agencies