Iran releases five American prisoners as officials confirm hostages are flying home

Five US prisoners have left Iran on a flight for Qatar as part of a prisoner swap with Tehran, an anonymous US official told AP.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the exchange was still in process.

Flight-tracking data showed a Qatar Airways flight take off at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport, which has been used for exchanges in the past.

The deal will see $6 billion in once-frozen Iranian assets released, a key element of the planned swap, officials said.

Despite the deal, tensions are almost certain to remain high between the US and Iran, which are locked in various disputes, including over Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran says the program is peaceful, but it now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani was the first to acknowledge the swap would take place Monday. He said the cash sought for the exchange that had been held by South Korea was now in Qatar.

A US official said that both Iranian and US officials had been notified by Qatar that the money had been transferred to the Gulf Arab nation, which serves as a go-between for the US and Iran.

Kanaani made his comments during a news conference aired on state television, but the feed cut immediately after his remarks.

He said: “Fortunately Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea were released and God willing today the assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation.”

He added: “On the subject of the prisoner swap, it will happen today and five prisoners, citizens of the Islamic Republic, will be released from the prisons in the US. Five imprisoned citizens who were in Iran will be given to the US side.”

He said two of the Iranian prisoners will stay in the US

Mohammad Reza Farzin, Iran’s Central Bank chief, later came on state television to acknowledge the receipt of over 5.5 billion euros – $5.9 billion – in accounts in Qatar. Months ago, Iran had anticipated getting as much as $7 billion.

Washington did not comment on the announcement. The planned exchange comes ahead of the convening of world leaders at the UN General Assembly this week in New York, where Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi will speak.

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