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Obama Hails Iran Prisoner Release As U.S. Lifts Economic Sanctions

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Photo: REX Shutterstock.
In a rare Sunday address to the nation, President Obama hailed the historic nuclear deal with Iran as a "smart" approach that paved the way for the release of several Americans held prisoner in Iran and other diplomatic breakthroughs.

"This is a good day, because once again, we're seeing what's possible with strong American diplomacy," Obama said. "As I said in my State of the Union address, ensuring the security of the United States and the security of our people demands a smart, patient, and disciplined approach to the world."

There were several developments over the holiday weekend that the president praised as diplomatic accords.

Four U.S. citizens freed by Iran, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were released on Sunday. Rezaian and two of the freed Americans were flown out of Tehran on Sunday. Another American was freed, but did not fly out with the others. Iran also promised to cooperate with the U.S. to locate Robert Levinson, the ex-CIA contractor who disappeared in Iran in 2007, reports CBS News.
As part of the prisoner swap, the U.S. offered clemency to seven Iranians — six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens — who had been accused or convicted of violating U.S. sanctions, according to CBS News. The U.S. also removed Interpol red notices and dismissed charges against 14 Iranians for whom extradition was unlikely to be successful, reports ABC News.

President Obama called the prisoner swap a "reciprocal humanitarian gesture" in Sunday's address.

"These individuals were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses," the president said. "They are civilians and their release is a one-time gesture to Iran given the unique opportunity offered by this moment and the larger circumstances at play. And it reflects our willingness to engage with Iran to advance our mutual interests, even as we ensure the national security of the United States."

In addition to the prisoner swap, the U.S. lifted economic sanctions against Iran as part of the nuclear accord. Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the president's praise for diplomacy on Saturday, when he announced the lifting of sanctions and said that Iran "honored" its obligations to the U.N. atomic watchdog.

"There is no question that the pace and the progress of the humanitarian talks accelerated in light of the relationships forged and the diplomatic channels unlocked over the course of the nuclear talks," Kerry told reporters in Vienna, according to CBS.
Kerry denied that the two negotiations were directly related, since the landmark agreement was reached last summer.

On Sunday, the U.S. and Iran also settled a monetary dispute over funds that Iran had used to purchase military equipment from the U.S. After decades of fighting over the money at the Hague, the U.S. promised to release $400 million in funds and an additional $1.3 billion in interest that had accrued since litigation began in 1981, according to several reports.

Despite all of the good news, the U.S. reportedly added new sanctions against Iran, reports the BBC. The new sanctions prevent 11 entities and individuals linked to the missile program from using the U.S. banking system.



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