A plane carrying Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and two other Americans released by Iran left Tehran on Sunday and later landed in Germany after the implementation of a landmark agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
Once the prisoner flight was well on its way, the Obama administration announced new sanctions related to participation in Iran’s ballistic missile program. The sanctions, which applied to 11 persons and companies, were issued under U.S. restrictions that remain in place despite the lifting Saturday of international sanctions tied to Iran’s nuclear program.
The plane landed in Geneva for a brief stopover before the Americans were flown to Germany for medical checkups at a U.S. military hospital. They landed at Ramstein Air Base and were to be taken to the U.S. military’s nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
While the Swiss plane carrying the three Americans was airborne, President Barack Obama hailed the implementation of the nuclear agreement and the prisoner deal with Iran that led to the release of the detained U.S. citizens. In televised remarks Sunday morning, he said that although “profound differences” remain between Washington and Tehran, the Iranian people now have a chance to end their isolation and “begin building new ties with the world.”
In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani told the Iranian parliament that the end of nuclear-related sanctions marks a “turning point” for the country. He later proclaimed in a news conference that financial institutions in Iran would be able to re-engage “the banks of the world for financial and monetary purposes.”
U.S. and European officials lifted the harshest economic sanctions against Tehran after the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog certified that the Islamic republic had fully complied with promises to curtail key parts of its nuclear program. Hours before diplomats in Vienna heralded the official activation of the nuclear deal, Iran confirmed the release of Rezaian and the other American detainees, set free in exchange for U.S. clemency offered to seven Iranians charged or imprisoned for sanctions violations and the dismissal of outstanding charges against 14 Iranians outside the United States.
Rezaian and two other released Americans were flown out of Tehran on Sunday, after a delay. One of the total of four Americans who were freed in the prisoner deal, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, did not fly out with the others, U.S. officials said.
“We can confirm that our detained U.S. citizens have been released and that those who wished to depart Iran have left,” a senior administration official said. “We have no further information to share at this time and would ask that everyone respect the privacy of these individuals and their families.”
A fifth American was released in a separate gesture by Iran and left Iran individually before the plane carrying the three Americans departed. Also on the plane were Rezaian’s Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and his mother, Mary Rezaian.
Awaiting their arrival in Germany were Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron, Post Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl and Jason Rezaian’s brother, Ali Rezaian.
In his remarks Sunday from the Cabinet Room of the White House, Obama spoke of the ordeals suffered by the detained Americans. He called Rezaian “a courageous journalist . . . who wrote about the daily lives and hopes of the Iranian people,” adding: “He embodies the brave spirit that gives life to the freedom of the press.”
Obama said the seven Iranians being granted clemency in the deal “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses.” And he described their release as “a one-time gesture to Iran” that reflects U.S. willingness to engage with the country “to advance our mutual interests.”
Although Iranian officials characterized the arrangement as an “exchange,” none of the seven who were granted clemency - six Iranian Americans and one with solely Iranian citizenship - were handed over to Iran, as in a traditional prisoner swap. Instead, U.S. officials said, they were free to decide individually whether to go to Iran.