WASHINGTON—Americans who were held captive in Iran have finally returned home after years of detention. The release was part of a contentious deal in which President Joe Biden agreed to unfreeze nearly $6 billion in Iranian assets. The prisoners arrived at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where they were greeted by their loved ones with tears and hugs. The emotional reunions took place in English and Farsi, the main language of Iran. The families expressed relief that the nightmare was over and that their loved ones were finally free.
During the homecoming, one of the released prisoners, Emad Sharghi, received a U.S. flag and a stuffed animal from his sister, a gift that had been given to their father 30 years ago. The former prisoners posed for a group photograph with their families, celebrating their newfound freedom. The successful negotiations for their release earned President Biden gratitude from their families, but also criticism from his Republican rivals and other opponents due to the monetary arrangement with Iran.
The hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, stated that the exchange could be a step toward building trust and promoting humanitarian actions between Iran and the United States. Iran aired footage of the two prisoners who returned to Iran as part of the swap, while two will remain in the U.S. and one will go to a third country. The returning prisoners hugged their families and criticized the U.S. for their sentences.
While tensions between the U.S. and Iran are expected to remain high due to disputes over Iran’s nuclear program and other issues, the prisoner release offered a moment of potential reconciliation. The U.S. did not immediately reveal the identities of the other two freed Americans. The release was part of a larger deal that also involved the release of five Iranians in U.S. custody and the unfreezing of Iranian assets owed by South Korea. The Biden administration stated that the freed Iranians do not pose a threat to U.S. national security.
The release of the prisoners was met with criticism from conservatives and others who believe that the Biden administration’s actions are strengthening the Iranian economy, potentially endangering American troops and allies in the Middle East. Former President Donald Trump, who is currently considered a top candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, called the deal “absolutely ridiculous.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Biden of rewarding Iran’s bad behavior.
In response to the release of the prisoners, Biden demanded more information on the whereabouts of Bob Levinson, an American who went missing years ago. The Biden administration also imposed fresh sanctions on former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. The U.S. government, along with the prisoners’ families and activists, have condemned the charges against the Americans as baseless.
Prisoner swaps between Iran and the U.S. have occurred throughout history, dating back to the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis following the Islamic Revolution.