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What Prisoner Swap Means For Future U.S.-Iran Relations


And we are following breaking news today. Iranian state media are reporting the release of four Americans from captivity today, including Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post reporter. Now, this news comes on a day that final preparations are being made to lift economic sanctions that had been imposed on Iran over its nuclear program. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the news from Istanbul. Peter, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: First, what do we know about the release of these Americans?

KENYON: Well, we now have confirmation from a U.S. official that Jason Rezaian and three others have been released - Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. Now of those four, probably the highest profile case was Jason Rezaian. A very engaging American-Iranian from California. He worked for The Post. His wife and him were both arrested in July of 2014. And despite several moments when it seemed that there might be some hope for release, he was convicted on espionage charges. The trial was said to be devoid of due process. And now the relief is huge among his family.

SIMON: And the other three prisoners, what do we know about them?

KENYON: Well, by far the longest held was Amir Hekmati. He's a U.S. Marine who was picked up while visiting his grandmother in 2011. So that means he spent nearly four and a half years in Iranian custody. Saeed Abedini is a pastor. He was arrested in 2012. His wife is now quoted as confirming her husband's release. Both those men and Rezaian were the subject of widespread campaigns seeking their release. Now, the fourth person I can't say that about. His name we have - Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari. It wasn't public until now, and I don't have any information about him.

SIMON: And, Peter, how do we read the significance of why this is happening at this moment?

KENYON: Well, why it's happening now, I think the claim by the Iranians is that this is a prisoner exchange and the Americans have taken some steps. U.S. officials say they've either dropped charges or in some cases are releasing seven Iranians. They were mainly involved in sanctions violation cases. Now, there's also these international searches on for 14 other people. INTERPOL calls them red notices. The U.S. is pulling those back and dropping charges in those cases as well. The U.S. is hoping this isn't a precedent. Obviously, there's a danger of Americans abroad being kidnapped as, quote, unquote, "trade bait."

SIMON: Yeah. And - well, let me just ask a question I think that might be running through the minds of a lot of people now. Why does this release happen at this moment as opposed to the negotiation process over the Iran deal?

KENYON: It's interesting. I can tell you frequently during the nuclear talks U.S. diplomats would tell reporters they never failed to bring up these cases of Americans being detained. And it now looks like talks to win their release may have just kept going even after the nuclear negotiations stopped. So I think a lot of people will be seeing this in the context of a new relationship between - between America and Iran, that is, and certainly Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have a fairly close working relationship. And it - at the moment it seems to be providing concrete results, although I don't think anyone believes this is a long-term sea change in the relationship.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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