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 South Korea.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan published on X a picture of the released Americans alongside diplomats in the airplane, saying “Welcome home.”
Following partially Qatari-led talks, the two countries carried out the prisoner swap upon the release of $6 billion frozen by South Korea as per the sanctions imposed on Iran.
The White House denied that the unfreezing of $6 billion of Iranian funds to help secure the release of five US citizens was effectively a ransom payment.
The welcome ceremony followed an exchange 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.
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.
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.
"This was purely a humanitarian action ... And it can certainly be a step based upon which in the future other humanitarian actions can be taken," Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told a group of journalists after his arrival in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
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.