President Biden on Monday hailed the return of five American detainees who Tehran released in exchange for Iranian prisoners and billions of dollars that were being held in South Korea.
At the same time, he warned Americans not to travel to Iran and said he would demand a “full account” of what happened to Bob Levinson, an American last seen in Iran.
Mr. Biden said Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi and “two citizens who wish to remain private” would soon be reunited with loved ones “after enduring years of agony, uncertainty and suffering.”
The president thanked foreign partners who facilitated the swap, including Qatar, where the prisoners stopped Monday on their way to the U.S., and South Korea, which released $6 billion in Iranian funds without fear of U.S. sanctions being applied to them.
Some of the former prisoners had been held for years on charges, including espionage, that U.S. officials described as bogus.
Mr. Biden faced intense GOP criticism for the deal, which Republicans equated to paying ransom to Tehran and said it invites Iran to take more people hostage.
The White House said it had to make tough choices to bring Americans home. It warned citizens not to get caught in the Islamic Republic’s grip in the future.
“As we welcome home our fellow citizens, I once more remind all Americans of the serious risks of traveling to Iran. American passport holders should not travel there,” Mr. Biden said.
The president also said he would demand details about the fate of Levinson, an ex-FBI agent who disappeared in Kish Island, Iran, under mysterious circumstances and is presumed dead after a yearslong detention.
“Today, we are sanctioning former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence under the Levinson Act for their involvement in wrongful detentions. And, we will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region,” Mr. Biden said.
He defended the prisoner deal after making similar bargains with Russia for detainees, including WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner.
Mr. Biden said his administration has brought home citizens from Afghanistan, Burma, Haiti, Russia, Rwanda, Venezuela, West Africa and other nations.
“Still, too many remain unjustly held in Russia, Venezuela, Syria, and elsewhere around the world,” he said. “We remain unflinching in our efforts to keep faith with them and their families — and we will not stop working until we bring home every American held hostage or wrongfully detained.”