Sep 19, 2023

Five Released Americans Fly Home After Years of Imprisonment in Iran Transcript

Five Released Americans Fly Home After Years of Imprisonment in Iran Transcript
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It’s the end of an ordeal for five Americans held for years by the regime in Iran, who were freed after high-stakes negotiations and began their journey home Monday. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Welcome to the NewsHour. Five Americans held for years by the regime in Iran are on their way home tonight, freed after high-stakes negotiations.

Speaker 2 (00:09):

In return, the U.S. is granting clemency to Iranians held in American prisons, and unfreezing almost $6 billion in assets held in South Korea. The U.S. says that money is now available to purchase humanitarian goods and equipment. For those freed from Iran today, it’s the end of an ordeal.

(00:29)
The five Americans flew towards freedom this morning, imprisoned by the Iranian regime for years, released in a complex deal between the U.S. and Iran.

Antony Blinken (00:39):

It’s very good to be able to say that our fellow citizens are free after enduring something that I think would be difficult for any of us to imagine.

Speaker 2 (00:49):

Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz were three of the five Americans on the flight from Tehran to Doha, Qatar. The other two detainees wish to remain anonymous. Each was held on various charges, but determined by the U.S. State Department to be wrongfully detained.

(01:06)
In a statement, Emad Shargi’s sister Neda said, “This is my brother, not an abstract policy. We’re talking about human lives. There is nothing partisan about saving the lives of innocent Americans, and today should be a moment of American unity as we welcome them home.”

(01:22)
In a deal struck with the Iranians, the five Americans were released in exchange for grants of clemency by the U.S. government for five Iranian nationals, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, Mehrdad Ansari, Amin Hasanzadeh, Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, and Kambiz Attar Kashani, and the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets held in South Korea to a restricted account in Qatar. Iran can only use the funds for humanitarian purposes. Two of the five Iranians released, Kafrani and Ansari, were seen in Qatar headed back to Iran.

Speaker 4 (02:01):

We are hoping to get the Iranian assets under full control today, and the funds are deposited into the account the Islamic Republic of Iran announced in a friendly regional country.

Speaker 2 (02:11):

Some lawmakers have been critical of the Biden administration for making a deal with Iran.

Tom Cotton (02:17):

Even a simple prisoner swap would still be grossly unjust, because, again, the Americans in Iran have done nothing wrong.

Speaker 2 (02:25):

But U.S. officials have defended the agreement.

John Kirby (02:28):

When we’re trying to bring Americans home, we often aren’t dealing on a level playing field. We have to use the leverage we have to bring them home. They aren’t going to be released for nothing in exchange.

Speaker 2 (02:41):

In New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met this morning with journalists, and said the exchange may lead to further dialogue between the U.S. and Iran.

(02:54)
Let’s hear more from someone close to one of the Americans released today, Jared Genser, a human rights attorney and pro bono counsel for the family of Siamak Namazi. He’s worked on the campaign for Namazi’s release and joins us from Geneva. Jared, welcome. Good to see you.

Jared Genser (03:10):

Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2 (03:11):

So, Siamak had been held for nearly eight years. Have you spoken directly with him since he has been freed? Has his family?

Jared Genser (03:19):

Yeah, I have. In fact, he gave me a call right before they took off to say they were about to be wheels up. And then, when he landed, I saw on a big screen in my hotel room him coming down the stairs, which was kind of an extraordinary moment for me and kind of surreal, given how much time I have spent with him over so many years, not only talking to him, but advocating around the world with his family. And a short time after he came down the stairs, he gave me a call and said, with a huge amount of joy, “Jared, I’m free.” And this is what we’d all been waiting for.

Speaker 2 (03:50):

You tweeted a photo of him with a great big smile. He looks just about as happy as anyone could be. We know he’s going to be assessed medically and psychologically and be given the support that he needs for former detainees and hostages. And we all remember this desperate high-risk interview he gave back in March from inside Evin prison. But what can you tell us about his mental state, his emotional state?

Jared Genser (04:15):

Well, I mean, I think I have been through this many times with clients of mine who have been hostages, American hostages around the world. And it’s overwhelming, the enormity of it. I mean, this is, obviously, front-page news, top story all around the world. And he’s living it, right?

(04:33)
And he knew it was coming, obviously. He had been under house arrest for a number of weeks with the other hostages. And we had a lot of conversations about how this was going to feel. And often, it feels a little bit like an out-of-body experience. You have been hoping and praying this day would finally come, but, when it does, it kind of sneaks up on you.

(04:50)
And there are two aspects of it that are so difficult. One is what he’s been through, and ultimately having to kind of unclench his fist after years and years and years of having to stand at the regime in order to survive. And then the other one is, he’s lost some of the best years of his life. And he wants to get married and have kids, and he needs to find a job and a place to live, and all these details that you could imagine that a person would have to go through in these circumstances.

(05:14)
So, it’s going to take him some time to get his bearing. And I have encouraged him to take it slow and one step at a time, and not jump in with both feet. And I think, ultimately, that the media will recede and he’ll be able to return to his life.

(05:30)
But it’s important to remember that it wasn’t just Siamak who was a hostage. But his father, Baquer Namazi, was famously a hostage after going back to try to see him in prison, where he had been held incommunicado in Iran, and himself detained at the age of 79 and spent three years in Evin prison, not ever seeing his son, but near him and almost dying there, and then several more years trapped in Iran, despite his sentence having been commuted. And Baquer Namazi only got out about a year-and-a-half ago.

(05:59)
So this has been one extraordinary and horrific ordeal for the family. And in a few hours, for the first time in nine or 10 years, the family will finally be together.

Speaker 2 (06:08):

We heard some powerful statements, read some powerful statements from the families today, of course. Bahareh Shargi, who’s Emad Shargi’s wife, said in a phone call to the president earlier today, “This was the first time in five years that we once again have light in our home.” Morad Tahbaz’s family thanked President Biden for “making the difficult, but necessary decision to prioritize the lives of American citizens over politics.” Siamak echoed that gratitude in his statement. And he also said: “2,898 days of what should have been the best days of my life were stolen from me and supplanted with torment. What I want more than anything is assurance no one else will know the interminable anguish that my family and I experienced.”

(06:46)
Jared, as you know, there’s an argument out there that this was not a good deal, that this will encourage more hostage-taking. What do you make of that argument?

Jared Genser (06:55):

Well, I approach this as a human rights partisan, not a political one. And the reality is, is that Republican and Democratic presidents going back to the hostage-taking in ’79 and going back to the beginning of our history have wrestled with this issue and failed repeatedly to address it.

(07:08)
For the Namazis, it’s worth noting that they felt no difference in the policies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. And let me just explain briefly what I mean. Siamak Namazi was left behind by President Obama in the hostage deal, along with the nuclear deal, in 2016. And, from there, Secretary Kerry told the family, “Well, he will be out in a couple of weeks. This is what we have heard.” Instead, Baquer Namazi got detained. And by the end of the Obama administration, both Baquer Namazi and Siamak Namazi were hostages and had 10-year sentences for collaborating with the enemy.

(07:41)
Then, President Trump comes along, and we hope, along with the family, I hope, that President Trump is talking about maximum pressure on Iran. And we’re like, “Great, maximum pressure. Let’s see if that works.” And it turns out that the maximum-pressure campaign in Iran was a zero-pressure policy on American hostages. Indeed, there was not a single action taken by President Trump to put any pressure on Iran that directly connected to hostages that had any impact. And so, four years later, not only were the Namazis still in jail, but, despite having been promised at the beginning of the administration that it wouldn’t happen, the Namazis were left behind two more times, where Americans that were taken later, deals were struck to get them out, and the Namazis were again left behind.

(08:22)
So what’s the difference for the Namazis between Donald Trump and Barack Obama? And the answer is nothing. And the reason is because, tragically, no administration seems to take this issue as a serious priority. I’m very glad that President Biden got this done. But the reality is, is that this is not a top priority of this administration, really, or any other. And the reality is, is that we need to take a dramatically different direction if we want to end the practice of state-sponsored hostage-taking.

Speaker 2 (08:46):

Jared, the work to try to free these Americans had stopped and started multiple times over the many years. What made the difference this time?

Jared Genser (08:54):

Well, I mean, I think that this is the biggest challenge of taking out a case where you’re talking about a hostage in Iran, because of the very long and detailed history and difficult history. The reality is, is, you have to get both countries to come together at the same time and be willing to talk. And there are 1,000 things conspiring against you to have that happen in that sequence.

(09:13)
And so I think that this is the tragic reality that we have dealt with over the course of our country’s history, and especially going back to ’79, which is, we have many higher priorities with Iran, nuclear issues, missiles, terrorism and other kinds of things. And the reality is, is that no administration has really focused on the freeing of American hostages as a priority within the overall Iran policy framework for the United States. And this is what has to change, in my view.

(09:42)
The reality is, is that it is a wonderful thing for a dictator and a country like Iran to be able to take hostages. There’s no consequence when they do so. And, eventually, all countries around the world, including the United States, ultimately cave and strike a deal. And we’ve seen this happen over and over and over again. And so what we need is draconian disincentives to be created, not just by the U.S., but by the U.S. working with dozens of countries around the world, so that if one hostage is taken from one country, 30 or 40 countries come down like a ton of bricks on the back of that country and dramatically change and disrupt the value proposition of taking hostages in the first place.

Speaker 2 (10:16):

That is Jared Genser, human rights attorney and pro bono counsel for the family of Siamak Namazi, who’s just been freed after nearly eight years’ detention in Iran. Jared, thank you. Good to see you.

Jared Genser (10:26):

Thank you.

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