Report: American Prisoners Freed by Iran Land in US After Swap Deal 

Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between US and Iran, arrive at Doha International Airport, Qatar September 18, 2023. (Reuters)
Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between US and Iran, arrive at Doha International Airport, Qatar September 18, 2023. (Reuters)
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Report: American Prisoners Freed by Iran Land in US After Swap Deal 

Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between US and Iran, arrive at Doha International Airport, Qatar September 18, 2023. (Reuters)
Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between US and Iran, arrive at Doha International Airport, Qatar September 18, 2023. (Reuters)

A plane carrying five Americans freed by Iran landed in the United States on Tuesday, a day after they were swapped for the release of five Iranians held in the US and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian funds, in a deal between the arch enemies.

CNN reported the plane had landed. The report did not provide further details.

It followed a carefully choreographed exchange, agreed after months of Qatar-mediated talks, that was triggered on Monday when the funds that had been blocked in South Korea were wired, via Switzerland, to banks in Doha.

After the transfer was confirmed, the five US prisoners plus two relatives took off on a Qatari plane from Tehran, at the same time as two of the five Iranian detainees landed in Doha on their way home. Three Iranians chose not to go to Iran.

The deal removes a point of friction between the United States, which brands Tehran a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran, which calls Washington the "Great Satan".

But it is unclear whether it will bring the two adversaries, which have been at odds for 40 years, closer on any other issues, such as Iran's nuclear program and its backing for regional militias or the US military presence in the Gulf and US sanctions.

The freed Americans include US-Iranian dual citizens Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British nationality. Two of them have not been publicly identified.

'Humanitarian action'

US President Joe Biden welcomed the return of the prisoners home in a statement on Monday but his administration also announced fresh US sanctions.

"We will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region," he said.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, called the swap a humanitarian action. "It can certainly be a step based upon which in the future other humanitarian actions can be taken," he added.

Relations between the United States and Iran have been especially bitter since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions and toughened US sanctions.

Washington suspects Iran's nuclear program may be aimed at developing nuclear arms, a charge Iran denies.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the door open to nuclear diplomacy, but suggested nothing was imminent.

US analysts were skeptical about prospects for progress.

"The prisoner swap does likely pave the way for additional diplomacy around the nuclear program this fall, although the prospect for actually reaching a deal is very remote," said Henry Rome of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.