Hostage Exchange As World Prepares to Lift Iranian Sanctions

“And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.” Genesis 14:14-16 (The Israel Bible™)

Iran freed four American hostages on Saturday in advance of the lifting of international sanctions as part of its deal with the P5+1 powers (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) concerning its nuclear program.  America is expected to release seven Iranian-Americans held in the United States who violated the legal sanctions against Iran, as part of a prisoner exchange.

The Washington Post reported those being freed include Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who had been held for 18 months in an Iranian prison; Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor from Boise, Idaho given an eight year term for “undermining national security” and imprisoned since July 2012 for organizing home churches; Amir Hekmati, a former Marine from Flint, Michigan who was arrested on charges of spying during a visit to see his grandmother in August 2011, originally sentenced to death but later given a ten year term; and Nosratollah Khosavi-Roodsari, whose arrest was not previously reported.

Two Americans still remain in custody. Siamak Mamazi, a Dubai-based oil company executive, was arrested in October while visiting a friend in Tehran.  Former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in March 2007 during a visit to Iran’s Kish Island and his whereabouts are unknown.

“Iran has also committed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson,” a US official in Washington said.

Fars listed the seven Iranians exchanged by the United States in the deal: Nader Modanlou, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afqahi, Arash Ghahreman, Touraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Sabounchi.

Golestaneh was arrested in Turkey in November 2013 and extradited to the United States in February 2015 and pleaded guilty last month to cyber-hacking a US defense firm in October 2012.

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Joel Androphy, a lawyer for three of the Iranians to be freed by US authorities, told the Washington Post that the Iranian Embassy told him that his three clients, who have been charged with sanctions violations but have not yet gone to trial, have been issued a pardon by President Barack Obama. The White House had no comment on the subject.

Iranian Prosecutor, Abbas Jaafari, said that “based on an approval of the Supreme National Security Council and the general interests of the Islamic Republic, four Iranian prisoners with dual nationality were freed today within the framework of a prisoner swap deal,” the Fars News Agency reported.

The US State Department announced that, “The United States also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”

Fars reported that these 14 Iranians were alleged to have been involved in trafficking arms to Iran.

Moving on to the next stage of removing sanctions is dependent upon a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on whether Iran has complied with all the conditions agreed upon in the negotiations which were concluded last July. The report was released in Vienna on Saturday. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry are there for the event, dubbed “Implementation Day”, which will signal the release of $50 billion that have been frozen due to sanctions.

Iran’s Mehr news agency quoted officials from the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) as saying on Friday that as soon as sanctions are lifted, some 200,000-220,000 barrels of oil per day would be exported to France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany.

In preparation for Implementation Day, Mehr reported on Saturday that executives from two of the world’s largest oil companies, Shell and Total, had arrived in Tehran for talks with state firms.  Global oil prices fell below $30 a barrel this week for the first time in 12 years.

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