In a sign of sustained readiness to track Iranian compliance with
remaining United Nations curbs, the United States imposed fresh
sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for supplying Iran's
ballistic missile program.
The Obama administration had delayed the step for more than two
weeks during tense negotiations to free five American prisoners,
according to people familiar with the matter. Iran conducted a
precision-guided ballistic missile test last October, violating a
Speaking after the released Americans had left Iran, Obama said Iran
now would not "get its hands on a nuclear bomb" and the planet would
be more secure.
"This is a good day because once again we are seeing what’s possible
through strong American diplomacy," Obama said at the White House.
"These things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead
with strength and with wisdom."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed the nuclear deal as a
"golden page" in Iran's history and said the agreement could be used
as a model to resolve other regional issues.
The lifting of sanctions and the prisoner deal considerably reduce
the hostility between Tehran and Washington that has shaped the
Middle East since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.
A Swiss plane took Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran
bureau chief; Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho; and Amir Hekmati,
a former U.S. Marine from Flint, Michigan, as well as some family
members, from Tehran to Geneva, Switzerland.
Shortly afterward, the three left for a U.S. military base in
Germany, arriving there later on Sunday, a U.S. State Department
One more Iranian-American released under the same swap, Nosratollah
Khosravi-Roodsari, was not aboard the aircraft. A fifth prisoner,
American student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately on
Saturday, a U.S. official said.
Several Iranian-Americans held in U.S. prisons after being charged
or convicted for sanctions violations have also been released, their
lawyers told Reuters on Sunday.
'DOING A HELL OF A LOT BETTER'
Rezaian told two Post senior editors in a phone call on Sunday night
that he was doing "a hell of a lot better than I was 48 hours ago."
The newspaper, which released details of the conversation with
Rezaian, said he "found escape in the fiction he was allowed to
read, and today he was avidly reading whatever he wanted."
Rezaian, 39, was arrested in July 2014 and sentenced in November to
a prison term. Iranian prosecutors had accused him of espionage,
charges the Post had dismissed as "absurd."
Obama called family members of the released prisoners on Sunday,
including Rezaian's brother Ali, and Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of
the Idaho pastor.
“I am thankful for our president and all of the hard work by the
White House and State Department in making this happen,” said
Abedini, who has appeared with U.S. Republican presidential
candidate Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator and a harsh critic of the Iran
The American Iranian Council, which promotes better relationships
between the United States and Iran, said in a statement on Sunday:
"The prisoner exchange, Iran's dutiful implementation of its nuclear
obligations, and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions all herald
a new era of US-Iran relations.”
But the U.S. thaw with Iran is viewed with deep suspicion by U.S.
Republicans as well as allies of Washington in the Middle East,
including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Cruz and fellow Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco
Rubio praised Iran's release of five detained Americans on Sunday,
but said the deal the White House made to win their freedom would
lead to more Americans being taken "hostage."
MONTHS OF TALKS
The prisoner deal was the culmination of months of contacts, secret
talks and legal maneuvering that came close to falling apart on at
least one occasion.
Speaking to parliament on Sunday, Rouhani, a pragmatic cleric
elected in 2013 on promises to end Iran's years of sanctions and
isolation, said he looked forward to an economic future less
dependent on oil exports.
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The exports are nevertheless likely to jump now that the United
States, European Union and United Nations have scrapped the
sanctions in return for Tehran complying with the deal to curb its
nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says were peaceful.
But Rouhani noted bitter opposition to the lifting of economic curbs
from Israel, some members of the U.S. Congress and what he called
"warmongers" in the region - an apparent reference to some of Iran's
Gulf Arab adversaries, not least Saudi Arabia.
Presenting the draft budget for the next Iranian fiscal year, which
begins in March, Rouhani told parliament the deal was a "turning
point" for the economy of Iran, a major oil producer virtually shut
out of international markets for the past five years.
He said later he expected 5 percent economic growth in the next
Iranian fiscal year and assured foreign investors of political and
"The nuclear negotiations which succeeded by the guidance of the
Supreme Leader and support of our nation, were truly a golden page
in Iran's history," he said.
Tens of billions of dollars' worth of Iranian assets will now be
unfrozen and global companies that have been barred from doing
business there will be able to exploit a market hungry for
everything from automobiles to airplane parts.
After the prisoners were freed, it was announced that the United
States and Iran settled a long-standing claim, releasing to Tehran
$400 million in funds frozen since 1981 plus $1.3 billion in
interest, the State Department said. The funds were part of a trust
fund once used by Iran to purchase military equipment from the
United States, which was tied up for decades in litigation at the
Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.
END OF SANCTIONS ERA
In Tehran, ordinary Iranians were cautious about what the future
holds after the lifting of sanctions. Many have lived under
sanctions or wartime austerity for so long that they have no clear
expectations about what the future might hold.
Iran's Gulf Arab adversaries were silent on news of the nuclear
deal's implementation, in what was perhaps a sign of unease at the
Israel's opposition was evident in a statement from the office of
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, which said that
even after signing the nuclear deal, Iran had not yet "abandoned its
aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ruled on Saturday that
Iran had fulfilled last year's agreement with six world powers to
curtail its nuclear program, triggering the end of sanctions.
Minutes after the IAEA's ruling, the United States formally lifted
banking, steel, shipping and other sanctions on Iran. The EU
likewise ended all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions
against the country. Most U.N. sanctions also automatically ended.
The end of sanctions means more money and prestige for Shi'ite
Muslim Iran as it becomes deeply embroiled in the sectarian
conflicts of the Middle East, notably in the Syrian civil war where
its allies are facing Sunni Muslim rebels.
(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Sam Wilkin in
Dubai, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Yeganeh
Torbati, Joel Schectman, Arshad Mohammed, Kevin Krolicki, David
Lawder and Peter Cooney in Washington and Barbara Lewis in Brussels;
Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney; Editing by William
Maclean, Dominic Evans, Janet McBride, Kevin Liffey and Jonathan
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