Americans freed from Iran land in US

By Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Jessie Yeung, CNN

Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT) September 19, 2023
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11:46 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

Our live coverage has wrapped up for the day. You can read more about the five Americans freed from Iranian detention here, or scroll through the posts below.

11:08 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

US official on Americans freed from Iran: "I probably haven't cried this much since I was a little kid"

From CNN's Abby Baggini

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, right, greets freed Americans Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi, who were released in a prisoner swap deal between U.S and Iran, as they arrive at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S., on September 19, 2023.
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, right, greets freed Americans Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi, who were released in a prisoner swap deal between U.S and Iran, as they arrive at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S., on September 19, 2023. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The release of the five Americans detained by Iran "was amazing, very emotional," Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens told CNN, adding, "I probably haven't cried this much since I was a little kid."

Carstens, who was on the plane that returned the newly freed Americans, said on told CNN This Morning that he was struck watching the families embrace and speak to one another without being surveilled by the Iranian government for the first time in years. Some of the family members had not seen their detained loved ones in as long as eight years, he added.

"I was struck by their strength, resilience, hopefulness, and love for their country," Carstens said.

"I think they're doing great," he said of the Americans' emotional state, adding that they are now in the care of the Department of Defense and undergoing post-isolation support activities.

Carstens, who runs point on hostage negotiations, responded to criticism from lawmakers and defended the transfer of $6 billion in frozen funds to Iran.

"This is a good deal," he said, emphasizing that the transferred Iranian funds will be held in "a much more restricted" account.

"We returned seven Americans, that's a good-news story," he said.
8:58 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

National security adviser posts picture of Americans freed from Iran on flight back to US

From CNN's Arlette Saenz and Nikki Carvajal

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan released a photo of the five Americans freed from Iran on their flight back to the United States.

The image also includes two relatives who were previously not allowed to leave the country.

“Here are the seven Americans on their way home from Iran alongside a world class group of American diplomats,” Sullivan wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Welcome home. 🇺🇸” 

 

 

8:56 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

Analysis: Biden takes political hit despite bringing Americans home from Iran

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

US President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington D.C., on September 17.
US President Joe Biden walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington D.C., on September 17. Andrew Harnik/AP

US President Joe Biden’s deal with Iran that unlocks $6 billion in Tehran’s frozen funds to bring five imprisoned Americans home is creating the kind of terrible optics and an opening for his domestic foes that a politically weakened president can ill afford.

Five Americans returned to US soil early Tuesday, according to two US officials, arriving in the Washington, DC, area reunited with their families.

Their return is an example of the kind of agonizing dilemma only presidents face in their lonely Oval Office perch and the way they often have to juggle humanitarian concerns with geopolitics and domestic considerations where no easy answers exist.

After all, the United States does not deal with its well-meaning friends to free hostages or wrongly detained Americans.

US enemies like Iran, Russia, Venezuela or the Taliban – with which Washington has in recent years traded for detainees – drive excruciatingly tough bargains and understand how to leverage political pressure for concessions that can be tough to justify before a hostile political audience at home. 

There is no perfect deal to free imprisoned Americans and the agreement with Iran is especially divisive. But a president must consider whether they have the power to spare detained citizens from the horrors of prisons in places like Iran and Russia and whether they are negligent if they choose not to free them for domestic political or geopolitical reasons or out of a fear of emboldening US foes. In this way dealing with US enemies can be a sign of political strength rather than weakness.

But the price for Biden for getting five Americans home in a deal facilitated by Qatar is a gusher of claims from Republicans playing into their narrative that he is weak, is losing his critical faculties and is going soft on a sworn US enemy.

Former Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly criticized Biden Monday for his administration's actions towards China, Russia and Iran, but also attacked Republicans who prioritize "a dangerous form of isolationism," singling out Trump in doing so.

Criticism from the likes of former President Donald Trump and Pence is politicized in the context of their presidential campaigns — and ignores their own deals to free Americans.

In 2019, Trump engineered a prisoner swap with Iran to free Xiyue Wang, a US citizen accused of spying. Trump also personally welcomed three Americans home from North Korea in 2018 after a deal that looked like a quid pro quo for a later summit with tyrant Kim Jong Un that turned into little more than a giant photo-op. Yet Trump’s deals, like Biden’s, also reunited Americans with their long-suffering families.

Some Biden critics will also use the latest deal to create a political kerfuffle to sabotage any attempt by the administration to revive a nuclear deal with Tehran that was scuttled by Trump.

Read more on the fallout for the president.

8:16 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

"We're home,” says American freed from Iran as he reunites with his family

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Emad Shargi embraces his wife after arriving at Fort Belvoir’s Davison Army Airfield on Tuesday morning.
Emad Shargi embraces his wife after arriving at Fort Belvoir’s Davison Army Airfield on Tuesday morning. Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The Americans landed at Fort Belvoir’s Davison Army Airfield on Tuesday morning for an emotional reunion with their family members.

Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens and Acting US special envoy for Iran Abram Paley descended the steps of the small plane first to cheers and applause, and someone be heard shouting, “Yay Roger! Yay Abram!”

Then the freed American detainees – Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi – stepped off the plane and onto US soil for the first time in more than five years and into the arms of their loved ones, some of whom rushed forward to greet them, carrying small American flags.

“We’re home,” Shargi said after embracing his daughters Hannah and Ariana and stroking his wife Bahareh’s face.
“How was the flight? Good?” his sister Neda Sharghi asked.
“Good, yeah, always good,” he said, and after a moment, added, “I can’t believe it.”
“I just can’t believe it. Too long. Five and a half years,” Emad said.

The family members then greeted each other’s returned loved ones – Bahareh hugging Siamak, Morad’s son hugging Emad. 

In brief remarks following the reunions, Carstens said, “We've all looked forward to this day, but we all knew that this day was eventually going to come.”

“Surrounding you rather, we have a lot of people that represent the hundreds, if not thousands of people that have worked tirelessly to bring you all home over the last few years. One of them is the special envoy for Iran Abram Paley,” Carstens said. 

“Enjoy your reunion. Go through the Army's program on post isolation support. Maintain that connectivity. Let's stay in touch. This is not goodbye. And I know a lot of you are going to maintain the fight to try to bring more Americans home,” he added.

7:59 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

Siamak Namazi's family is "jubilant" that the moment of his freedom has come, uncle says

Family members embrace freed American Siamak Namazi after he and four fellow detainees were released in a prisoner swap deal between U.S and Iran and arrived at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S., on September 19.
Family members embrace freed American Siamak Namazi after he and four fellow detainees were released in a prisoner swap deal between U.S and Iran and arrived at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S., on September 19. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

Hushang Namazi said there's no words to describe the feeling of seeing his nephew, Siamak Namazi, one of the five Americans freed from Iran Monday, to come down the plane and be back on US soil.

"The whole family went through a lot of ups and downs knowing what he's going through in prison," he said Tuesday morning. "Then to finally see him come down the plane, I mean no words can describe it. Because really the whole family has been through hell, and praying for this moment. Finally it's arrived. We're all so jubilant, that the moment has come." 

"There were so many occasions when we thought that he's going to be released. And then our hopes were dashed. Finally we realized, no. There's no point in being happy about the prospects of him being released until he's really out of the air space of Iran. And this came about. And really it's — for the whole family — it's greatest news we could have ever expected," he added. 

He said he hasn't yet spoken with his nephew since the freed American arrived after midnight. He added that Siamak is going to have a breakfast with his mother and other immediate family members for the first time in eight years.

"Can't wait to hug him and the whole family, because his mother also was fantastic in saying, 'I will not leave Iran until I'm accompanying my son.' And she stayed firmly by his side and finally they were both able to get out," he added.

7:38 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

5 Americans freed from Iranian detention are now back in the US. Here's the latest on the US-Iran agreement

From CNN staff

Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi (center), Emad Sharqi (second from right) and Morad Tahbaz (right) are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on September 18, 2023.
Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi (center), Emad Sharqi (second from right) and Morad Tahbaz (right) are greeted upon their arrival at the Doha International Airport in Qatar on September 18, 2023. Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images

Five Americans freed from Iranian detention returned to US soil early Tuesday following an initial stop in Doha, Qatar, according to two US officials.

The five, all of whom had been designated by the United States as wrongfully detained, were freed as part of a wider deal that includes the US unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian funds.

The release of the Americans brings to an end a years-long nightmare for those who had been detained. Three of those who are part of the deal — Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi — had all been imprisoned for more than five years. Namazi had been detained since 2015. The identities of the other two Americans are not publicly known.

Here's the latest on the agreement:

  • $6 billion transfer: Under the deal, $6 billion in Iranian funds that had been held in restricted accounts in South Korea were transferred to restricted accounts in banks in Qatar. The funds came from oil sales that were allowed and placed into accounts set up under the Trump administration, sources told CNN. Biden administration officials have stressed that the funds can be used by Iran only for humanitarian purchases and that each transaction will be monitored by the US Treasury Department.
  • 5 Iranians released: The agreement also involved the release of five Iranians in US custody. Two of the five Iranians had served a majority of their sentences; the other three were awaiting trial and had not yet been convicted, a senior administration official said. According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, two of the Iranians were returning to Iran, one was expected to leave for another country, and the other two were expected to remain in the US. Those who are remaining in the US do not pose a national security risk, US officials said.
  • New US sanctions: Following the release of the Americans, the US issued new sanctions against Iran targeting Tehran’s Ministry of Intelligence and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, senior administration officials said, seeking to punish them for a lack of answers around Bob Levinson, an American detained in Iran for more than a decade who is believed to have died there. “We’ll never give up on Bob Levinson’s case,” one official said.
  • US reaction: President Joe Biden celebrated the release of the five Americans “after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering,” he said in a statement. He thanked “partners at home and abroad for their tireless efforts to help us achieve this outcome, including the Governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland, and South Korea.” However, senior Republican Party officials criticized the agreement. Former Vice President Mike Pence — under whose tenure the White House made two prisoner swap deals with Tehran — criticized Biden for allowing Iran to “foment terrorism across the Middle East.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the administration of “incentivizing Tehran’s bad behavior.”

Read more about the agreement.

7:15 a.m. ET, September 19, 2023

5 freed Americans land on US soil

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Family members embrace freed Americans Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi — as well as two returnees whose names have not yet been released by the U.S. government — as they arrive at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S., on September 19.
Family members embrace freed Americans Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi — as well as two returnees whose names have not yet been released by the U.S. government — as they arrive at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, U.S., on September 19. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The flight carrying five Americans freed from Iranian detention has landed back on US soil, two US officials told CNN.

Their plane landed in the Washington, DC, area in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The freed Americans will now have the option to participate in a Department of Defense Program known as PISA (Post Isolation Support Activities) to help them acclimate back to normal life now that they are back in the United States.

The US State Department had declared the five Americans as wrongfully detained.

11:14 p.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie says he wouldn't have made Iran deal

From CNN's Ali Main

Chris Christie's CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper in New York on June 12, 2023.
Chris Christie's CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper in New York on June 12, 2023. Laura Oliverio/CNN

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has joined a chorus of GOP voices criticizing the deal that led to the freeing of five American prisoners by Iran, which included the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

Speaking to CNN Monday, Christie said he would not have made the deal.

"The idea that Iran would use this money for only humanitarian efforts, let me tell you what humanitarian is in Iran ... That means they cut your hand off before they kill you," he said.

Earlier Monday, White House coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby stressed that the United States can stop a transaction with these funds from taking place if necessary, and US officials have said that if they find misuse of the funds, they can freeze the accounts.

But Senior Republican Party officials denounced the agreement. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence — under whose tenure the White House made two prisoner swap deals with Tehran — criticized President Joe Biden for allowing Iran to “foment terrorism across the Middle East.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the Biden administration of “incentivizing Tehran’s bad behavior.”

And Christie accused Biden of giving "one of the most barbaric regimes in the world" funds to make "dangerous mischief around the world."

The deal "empowers that regime to support terror and encourages them to take more Americans in order to try to get more money from assets that are frozen because of their own terrorist conduct," he added.

When asked what he would have done differently, Christie said he would have done the best he could to get the hostages released, but "you don't get them returned home to make matters worse."