The five former American detainees in Iran released under a prisoner exchange agreement with Washington, mediated by Qatar, are now on their way to the United States. In Washington, the White House confirmed that the ex-prisoners and their family members had indeed left Doha by plane to return to American soil.

In New York, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken said he spoke with the released Americans after their arrival in Doha, where they were welcomed on the tarmac with hugs, describing a “moving” conversation. “I spoke to them when they landed in Doha. I can tell you that it was a moving conversation for them, for me,” he said, adding that “it feels really good to be able to say that our fellow citizens are now free.”

Beforehand, a transfer of Iranian funds frozen in South Korea, amounting to six billion dollars, was announced in Doha and confirmed by Iran. This transfer is part of the agreement, which also provides for the release by the United States of five Iranian prisoners. Two of them, benefiting from a measure of clemency, also arrived in Doha on Monday, to return to Iran, Iranian media reported on Monday. The three other released ex-prisoners do not wish to go to Iran.

This arrangement was announced on August 10 and five Americans of Iranian origin, detained in Iran, were then transferred in August from their prison to be placed under house arrest. Among them is businessman Siamak Namazi, arrested in 2015 and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2016 for espionage. “Thank you President (Joe) Biden for putting human life before politics,” he said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also welcomed the release of the prisoners, one of whom, Morad Tahbaz, also has British nationality. Iran “must stop using foreign nationals as bargaining chips,” Mr. Sunak’s services said in a statement.

Among the five Iranians to be released by the United States are Reza Sarhangpour and Kambiz Attar Kashani, accused of “diverting US sanctions” against Iran.

In the eyes of certain experts, this agreement demonstrates a relative easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, but it does not prejudge a possible agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. The spokesperson for the UN Secretary General hoped on Monday that it would lead “to greater cooperation and a reduction in tensions” between the two countries which no longer maintain diplomatic relations.

But while welcoming the agreement, Washington wanted to temper expectations. “This process, the commitments that were necessary to free these Americans unjustifiably detained, have always been separated from our commitments, or lack thereof, with Iran” on nuclear power, said Mr. Blinken, not letting foresee new discussions, even indirect ones, in the near future. Negotiations led by the Europeans had failed in 2022 to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, moribund since the unilateral withdrawal of the United States in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump.

The prisoner exchange comes on the same day that Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi is expected in New York to participate in the UN General Assembly.

Coincidence or coincidence, the Biden administration, criticized by the Republican opposition which describes the exchange as a “ransom”, announced sanctions on Monday against the Iranian intelligence ministry and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the US president promised Monday to “continue to sanction Iran for its provocative actions in the region.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted that this was not a “blank check” offered to Iran and that the use of these funds “for purposes humanitarian purposes” only would be under “strict surveillance”. From the sale of hydrocarbons by Iran, these funds were blocked following American sanctions.

Tehran, for its part, assured that it had the possibility of using this envelope in other ways and not just to buy medicine and food. After this payment, Iran will “no longer have many resources blocked in other countries,” said Iranian diplomatic spokesperson Nasser Kanani on Monday.