(Bloomberg) — Iran said it will exchange prisoners with the US on Monday, as part of deal Washington hopes will ease tension in the Middle East and could eventually lead to a resumption of talks to reverse Tehran’s nuclear work.
The countries will each release five prisoners, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a press conference. Two of the Iranians to be freed will return to Iran, while the others will join family elsewhere or stay in the US, he said.
Iran’s central bank governor also said 5.57 billion euros ($5.94 billion) of oil funds that the US had previously frozen had been transferred from South Korea to Qatari banks.
Among those expected to be freed is Siamak Namazi, who has been held in Iran’s Evin Prison in Tehran since 2015.
The moves follow months of mostly secret diplomacy between Tehran and Washington, the talks conducted via interlocutors such as Oman and Qatar. Under their agreement, the US has allowed Iran to access $6 billion of oil money frozen in South Korean banks due to sanctions.
While US officials say there are no other negotiations underway, Washington hopes to clear the way for broader diplomacy aimed at imposing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The US and allies including Israel worry Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon, which could trigger an arms race in the region. Tehran has always said its atomic program is purely for peaceful purposes.
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Talks on Iran’s atomic work are “possible” via intermediaries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is traveling to the US for the event.
Iran’s oil exports have soared amid the latest diplomatic push, with most shipments headed to China. Some US officials have privately acknowledged they’ve gradually relaxed enforcement of energy sanctions on Tehran.