BEIRUT — The United States and Iran reached an agreement last week that will eventually free from custody five Americans detained in Iran and an unknown number of Iranians imprisoned in the US, after billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets are transferred from banks in South Korea to Qatar.
L’Orient Today spoke with Barbara Slavin, distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, to explore the causes, implications, and aftermath of the deal.
Why is this agreement being made now? Have relations between the two countries recently evolved in a way to facilitate such maneuvers?
Relations between US and Iran have not evolved. This deal has been under negotiation for a very long time.
One of the US prisoners has been jailed in Iran since 2015. The deal took so long because Iran has other detainees that were discovered, and because of the complicated way that Iran will be able to access the funds.
The funds will be transferred to a bank in Qatar, and Iran will only be able to access them for humanitarian purposes.
To what extent does this have to do with an [informal] agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue?
I think it is not really connected, however it's helpful because this issue had to be resolved first for the US and Iran to be able to talk.
However, the Iranian nuclear issue is a separate file which has also been a long issue in the negotiations in Vienna [Austria], in talks mediated mainly by Oman. However it’s a separate track. There appears to be an understanding that Iran will not escalate the [nuclear] program and will roll it back a little.
Is this agreement related to a potential regional de-escalation?
I think it is, in a way. I think all countries in the region, including Iran, want to reduce tension. Less conflict regionally means more trade, for all the countries in the region.
If relations between Iran and US are less tense, it would mean a regional de-escalation.