August 10, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. to Release $6 Billion to Iran in Exchange for Hostages

August 10, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. to Release $6 Billion to Iran in Exchange for Hostages

Latest Developments 

The United States and Iran reached a deal on August 10 for Tehran’s release of five Iranian-American dual nationals to house arrest in exchange for Washington’s release of several jailed Iranians and the unfreezing of about $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue. The prisoners Iran freed include Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz — all of whom Tehran incarcerated on spurious espionage charges — as well as two unnamed detainees. A lawyer for Namazi said Iran transferred the three named prisoners and one other to a hotel in Tehran, where they will remain for several weeks before they can board a plane to Qatar, which helped broker the agreement. Tehran released the fifth prisoner to house arrest earlier. 

Expert Analysis 

“It’s good news that American hostages, illegally seized by the regime in Iran, are coming home. But paying $6 billion in ransom payments means the regime will only take more hostages. This has become a lucrative means of international extortion for Iran’s supreme leader. The $6 billion will not only be used for humanitarian purposes. In the real world, where cash is fungible, it will free up $6 billion to be used for terrorism, funding drones for Russia, domestic repression, and nuclear weapons expansion. Only when the regime is severely punished for illegally seizing hostages, not rewarded with billions in ransom payments, will it put a stop to these humanitarian abuses.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO 

“This is not a prisoner exchange; it’s the largest hostage ransom payment in American history. This money isn’t for humanitarian relief; it’s budget support to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. At more than $1 billion per hostage, Iran, Russia, and China will be more likely to take Americans hostage, not less.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor 

“A prisoner swap deal with Tehran and Washington is emerging. But this time, the Islamic Republic reportedly stands to receive access to both frozen funds and the release of persons jailed by the United States —assumedly on sanctions busting or worse violations — in exchange for hostages it has taken. Should this be the opening salvo of a lesser or unwritten political arrangement with Iran over its nuclear program, Washington will have truly, to borrow a phrase, learned nothing and forgotten nothing about how to conduct diplomacy with Tehran.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow 

A History of Ransom Payments 

The latest prisoner release is not the first time Iran has demanded ransom payments in exchange for releasing hostages. In 2015 and early 2016, the Obama administration negotiated a similar scheme alongside the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sending Iran $400 million — the first installment of a $1.7 billion payment — as Tehran released four Americans. The result was more hostages taken by the clerical regime, which transferred the $1.7 billion to its military budget. If $1.7 billion encouraged the regime to take more hostages, $6 billion will guarantee much more hostage-taking to come. 

Iran Deliberately Pursues Hostages 

Iran deliberately seeks hostages as a form of economic pressure against the West. “We’ll take 1,000 Americans hostage,” Mohsen Rezaei, a former vice president of Iran for economic affairs who has held multiple senior positions in the regime, said in 2021. “America will have to pay several billions to get every single one freed. This is how we can solve our economic problems.” 

U.S., Iran May Be Negotiating Payoff for American Hostages,” FDD Flash Brief 

Release of Hostages in Iran May Be Linked to U.S. Sanctions Relief,” FDD Flash Brief 


Iran Iran Politics and Economy Sanctions and Illicit Finance