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Three US prisoners freed by Iran ‘arrive in Geneva’

By AFP - Jan 18,2016 - Last updated at Jan 18,2016

GENEVA — A Swiss plane carrying three of the four US citizens freed by Iran in a prisoner swap landed in Geneva on Sunday, a US official said.

Among those on board was The Washington Post's Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, who had been detained in Iran for nearly 18 months.

"Overwhelmed to greet Jason #Rezaian, his wife, Yegi, mother, Mary + Saeed #Abedini + Amir #Hekmati to #Geneva after safely departing #Iran," senior US diplomat Brett McGurk wrote on Twitter.

An AFP reporter at Geneva airport saw a Swiss air force plane touch down at around 1700 GMT, on the same tarmac where a large, official US aircraft was stationed.

The Swiss foreign ministry earlier said that after landing in Switzerland, the freed prisoners, all of whom have dual US-Iranian citizenship, would then leave for an American base in Germany.

Neither US nor Swiss officials had explicitly named those on board the Swiss-bound plane, but McGurk's tweet confirmed reports that the three freed prisoners were Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor, and former US Marine Amir Hekmati.

Iran had announced their release on Saturday, just hours before Tehran's historic nuclear deal with world powers was implemented, in exchange for Washington pardoning seven Iranians accused of sanctions-busting or violating trade embargoes.

"When Americans are freed, that's something we can all celebrate," US President Barak Obama said in a televised statement from the White House.

But he also sounded a note of caution, adding that the US would continue to have problems with the Iranian government's "destabilising activities" in the region, including its support for militant groups.

'Fourth prisoner in Tehran' 

The Swiss foreign ministry said the prisoner swap followed 14 months of confidential discussions in Switzerland.

The fourth Iranian-American released as part of the swap, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, has not yet left Tehran, senior US officials said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, officials said Khosravi-Roodsari — about whom little is known — elected not to board the plane for Switzerland.

"Those who wished to depart Iran have left," said one official. Another said "it's his free determination where he wants to go".

A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was released in a separate process, a US official has said.

The Post had earlier reported that the flight out of Iran was delayed because Rezaian's mother Mary and wife Yeganeh, who also were on the plane, initially did not appear on the flight manifest.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters travelling with him from Vienna to Washington that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif resolved the problem.

"Zarif had no question about it," Kerry was quoted as saying. "It was part of the agreement, it was clearly stated. The problem was, one of the guys on the ground, at a military base, didn't have it on the manifest."

 

Iranian state television said the seven Iranians — Nader Modanlou, Baharam Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh, and Ali Saboonchi — "will be freed today".

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