A Washington Post reporter and three other Iranian Americans that had been detained in Iran were released from prison, and several of them arrived at Geneva on Sunday aboard a Swiss plane.
In exchange, the United States released seven Iranians that had been or charged in connection with sanctions violations.
US officials said it was a prisoner swap based on humanitarian concerns. The exchange occurred a day after diplomats announced the end of international sanctions against Iran, based on the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna confirming that Tehran held up its end of a nuclear deal. Also Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna.
Switzerland, which has represented US interests in Iran since Washington broke off formal relations in 1980, "welcomed the exchange that contributes to the potential rapprochement between the two countries after decades of tension", the Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
The nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers required that Iran curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of UN-approved sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States. With the implementation of the deal, Iran’s oil and gas production and its 80 million consumers are poised to re-enter the global marketplace.
Swiss-facilitated secret negotiations
The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed on Sunday that it "facilitated the conclusion of this agreement at the request of both parties" after 14 months of confidential discussions in Switzerland.
The deal led to "the respective release of eleven people and dropping of all charges against additional persons", the ministry said in a statement.
The diplomatic breakthrough resulted in the release of the Washington Post's bureau chief in Tehran, Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini of Idaho, former Marine Amir Hekmati of Michigan, who all boarded the Swiss plane along with Rezaian's wife and mother.
Iranian officials had confirmed that the 39-year-old Rezaian was freed from Tehran’s Evin Prison after being held there for 18 months. The fourth American who was released, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, was not aboard the Swiss plane, US officials said.
After their arrival in Geneva, the former prisoners were to be brought from Switzerland to a US military base in Germany for medical treatment.
Negotiations over the nuclear deal resulted in the first direct US negotiations with Iran in 2009, and since then Iran, its economy battered by sanctions, has increasingly sent signals it wants to re-engage with the international community.
The foreign ministry said it also had a representative and doctors aboard the Swiss plane.
swissinfo.ch and agencies