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U.S.-Iran deal paved a way for 5 Americans to be freed from detention in Tehran

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Five Americans are out of an Iranian prison, and their families hope they may soon get out of Iran. The United States has been negotiating an agreement for their release. The deal would allow the Americans to go free; while Iran would recover prisoners from U.S. jails and get some benefit from its assets that have been frozen for years. One of the Americans now out of prison, we believe, is Siamak Namazi, who's been locked up since a 2015 business trip to Iran. Jared Genser is a lawyer representing his family, and he's on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.

JARED GENSER: Thanks so much for having me.

INSKEEP: Where is Siamak Namazi and the others, and have you heard from him?

GENSER: Yes. Well, Siamak and the others are at a hotel in Tehran and under a, you know, de facto house arrest being held there by running officials. I have, indeed, spoken to him late last night, and he's in good spirits but, at the same time, quite cognizant of the fact that there are no guarantees that this is over until the plane has taken off and left Iranian airspace. So we really have to be vigilant and make sure that both the U.S. and Iran, you know, work through the issues that need to be resolved so that they can finally be returned to the United States to their families.

INSKEEP: You're reminding me, his father, who was held for a while, was at one point released to house arrest or released to his home and then had to go back into jail. So you don't know that this is over. But assuming that this deal goes through, what is the sequence of events? How is it concluded?

GENSER: Yeah. I mean, you know, this is going to be a prisoner swap. So there're going to be prisoners on the American side, five Americans, and some unknown number of prisoners on the U.S. side, Iranians in American jails. And that will also be accompanied by a transfer of an estimated $6 billion of Iran's own money that was paid to South Korea for oil that they had purchased. That money will be put into a bank account in Qatar, and the government of Qatar will oversee that account. And the money will only be able to be used for things of a humanitarian nature like food and medicine.

INSKEEP: Is this all settled, this sequence you just described, or is there something that still needs to be negotiated?

GENSER: No. My understanding is that it is settled, and there are a series of events that need to happen on both sides in terms of putting all of the details into place so that the deal can be executed. But it is my understanding that this is a deal that has been agreed to and is in place.

INSKEEP: It's easy to anticipate criticism of this deal because it sounds mind-boggling from the outside that Iran's government, with which the United States is so opposed, would get $6 billion out of this deal. How would you defend against the criticism that this is benefiting the government of Iran?

GENSER: Well, look, you know, what I would say is the following, is that, you know, this money is not, you know, American money or coming from the U.S. taxpayer but is Iran's own money that is being used in order to bring these American home - Americans home. But the reality is that U.S. policy on freeing American hostages has been consistently inconsistent. And by that what I mean is that, you know, the U.S. doesn't negotiate with terrorists except when it does. It doesn't pay ransoms except when it does.

And so, you know, we have to clear the decks and bring home the American hostages from around the world. And I think we have to immediately pivot to developing a policy that can end hostage taking as a practice overall. And in my view, that has to be done through multilateral engagements and potential, you know, draconian penalties for governments that engage in this kind of policy practice.

INSKEEP: Do you think that there is an adequate safeguard that people of the United States, as opposed to in Iran, will not benefit from this money? You noted that the Iranian government is not getting the money. It's going to Qatar. Qatar will then pay some of Iran's bills for humanitarian aid.

GENSER: Look, I mean, you know, is this an ideal deal from anyone's perspective? Of course not. I mean, will we want to give them even their own money? We would like to avoid that. The problem is that - actually the policy on our side, which, you know, both Republican and Democratic presidents have made deals like this in the past. And so, you know, from the perspective of the Namazi family and Siamak Namazi - you know, our view, it would be that it's, you know, an arbitrary cutoff point to say, well, let's just stop doing this right now on this particular set of cases, when we've done this for many decades.

And so I think that - you know, I fully agree that we need to change our entire approach towards, you know, saving American hostages taken abroad. And what we need is, you know, substantial disincentives for governments to engage in this behavior. And to me, that's what absolutely needs to happen next so that the United States is never in a position to have to be able to engage in this kind of behavior.

INSKEEP: In a couple of seconds, do you know how soon the five Americans might anticipate being on that plane out of Tehran?

GENSER: The best that I know is in the coming weeks, but we don't have any precise timelines, in fact, that have been promised. Again, both sides need to execute on this deal, and we would hope that they would do so as quickly as possible.

INSKEEP: Jared Genser is a lawyer representing the family of Siamak Namazi. Thank you so much.

GENSER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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