3 Americans freed by Iran land in Germany

By PATRICK J. MCDONNELL AND RAMIN MOSTAGHIM | Los Angeles Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 18, 2016

Three Americans released from Iranian custody as part of a U.S.-Iran prisoner swap arrived Sunday in Europe.

On board a chartered flight that landed in Geneva were Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini.

The three freed Americans later landed at the U.S. Air Force base at Ramstein, Germany, a State Department official said. They will receive medical checks there, and it was not known how long they would remain at the base before continuing their journey. Some family members and Washington Post executives were also present at the base.

The three were released from Iranian custody as part of a prisoner swap with Iran that also saw U.S. authorities pardon or drop charges against seven Iranian nationals accused of violating U.S. sanctions against commercial activity with Iran.

A fourth freed U.S. citizen, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, apparently was not on the Swiss flight that arrived in Geneva, though it was not immediately clear why.

All four involved in the swap have U.S. and Iranian citizenship.

Diplomats from the United States and Iran worked for more than a year in negotiating the complex prisoner swap, officials said.

A fifth U.S. citizen, Matthew Trevithick, a student and regional researcher who had been studying Farsi in Iran, was released but was not part of the larger prisoner exchange, authorities said. He also left Iran, officials said.

The prisoner exchange was announced on Saturday but U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said various last-minute details delayed the departure from Iran of the Swiss flight that was to take the freed Americans and some family members to Europe. The plane finally left Tehran Sunday.

The prisoner swap was announced on the same day that implementation began of the wide-ranging nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The deal lifts nuclear-related sanctions against the Islamic Republic in return for constraints on its nuclear program.

Iran will be able to use tens of billions of dollars in previously frozen funds and will also have renewed access to international investments and markets.

However, the U.S. Treasury Department on Sunday imposed new sanctions against “11 entities and individuals,” including a network based in the Middle East and China and another with suspected links to North Korea, for their alleged involvement in Tehran’s ballistic missile program in violation of United Nations resolutions. The ballistic missile sanctions program is separate from the now-lapsed sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program.

The Treasury Department’s sanctions, which had been prepared weeks ago but held back until after the four American prisoners in Iran were released, also targeted five Iranian individuals who U.S. officials said had worked to secure ballistic weapon components for Iran.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions,” Adam J. Szubin, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement Sunday.

Iran has denied that its missile program violates United Nations resolutions.


(Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and staff writer McDonnell from Beirut. Times staff writers Don Lee and Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.)


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