Iran’s embassy to the United Nations told media outlets that the two countries have agreed to “reciprocally release and pardon five prisoners.”
Given the acidic relations between the United States and Iran, people familiar with the negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, cautioned that the complex arrangement could still fall apart. “I’ve been through multiple failed attempts to release American hostages held in Iran. I don’t believe anything will happen until it happens,” said Jared Genser, the Namazi family’s lawyer.
Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American, had been behind bars in Tehran for nearly eight years, the longest duration the Islamic republic has jailed any American.
Other prisoners moved to house arrest were Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian American who also holds British citizenship and Emad Shargi, an American-Iranian dual citizen, according to Genser. Both were arrested in 2018.
The fourth and fifth Americans held in Iran remain unidentified at the request of their families.
“While we welcome the news of these individuals’ release from prison to house arrest, they should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “We continue to work diligently to bring these individuals home to their loved ones. They must be allowed to depart Iran and reunite with their loved ones as soon as possible.”
Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother, said in a statement that the family was “grateful” but would continue to fight for the detainees’ full release.
“While this is a positive change, we will not rest until Siamak and others are back home,” he said. “We have suffered tremendously and indescribably for eight horrific years and wish only to be reunited again as a family.”
Siamak’s father, Baquer Namazi, 86, also was arrested by Iranian authorities when he traveled there in early 2016 to visit his son in prison. He was sentenced the same day as his son. The father, who suffers from a heart condition, among other ailments, was released on medical furlough in 2018. Iran commuted his sentence in 2020, but would not permit him to leave until October 2022.
The United States and Iran had been negotiating the terms of a prisoner release for months. Thursday’s development marks a rare bright spot in U.S.-Iran relations, which have been marked by deep distrust and the failure to revive a nuclear deal that President Biden vowed to renew when he ran for president.
Since Biden came to power, Tehran has repeatedly refused to talk directly with Washington, requiring third parties to help broker discussions. Qatar played a significant role in facilitating discussions between the two sides over the detainee release and hosting the talks, said a person familiar with the negotiations. Switzerland, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq also played a role.
Amid the prisoner release talks, the United States and Iran have also been discussing a possible informal arrangement that would seek to place some limitations on Iran’s expanding nuclear program and avoid an international crisis.
The State Department has pushed back against reports that it has secured an agreement related to Iran’s nuclear program. “Rumors about a nuclear deal, interim or otherwise, are false and misleading,” Miller told reporters earlier this summer. “We have at all times believed that diplomacy is the best path forward.”
U.S. officials have also insisted prisoner negotiations are not linked to nuclear discussions. European officials, who support a deal between the United States and Iran to restrain Tehran’s nuclear program, hope that progress on detainees could help pave the way for more productive discussions.
President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal forged during the Obama administration that imposed strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Biden vowed to return to the deal, but the two sides have been unable to overcome profound levels of mistrust.
Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “collaboration with a hostile foreign government,” a claim that the United Nations, human rights organizations and the United States have said is baseless. He was arrested in 2015 while he was on a business trip in Iran.
The United States has said that in imprisoning Namazi and other U.S. nationals, Iran has used hostages to gain leverage in international negotiations.
Tehran’s Evin Prison has a long record of human rights abuses and is viewed as a cornerstone of Tehran’s authoritarian rule.
Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.