On Jan. 16, the Iranian government released four American prisoners as part of a prisoner swap between the United States and Iran.
Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini returned to the United States, while a fourth prisoner, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, elected to remain in Iran. In exchange, the United States government released seven Iranian civilians charged with violating economic sanctions.
The exchange comes on the heels of a controversial nuclear weapons agreement between Iran and a group of nations, led by the Obama administration.
Charles Kurzman is a professor of sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations. The Daily Tar Heel's staff writer Sam Killenberg spoke with Kurzman about the prisoner swap, the Iran nuclear deal and the implications of both for future Iran-U.S. relations.
The Daily Tar Heel: Why were these people imprisoned to begin with?
Charles Kurzman: Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been difficult for many years, and many officials in the Iranian government are concerned that Americans may be traveling to Iran to spy on the country or to instigate revolts against the Iranian government. I don't know anything specific about the particular individuals, the reasons for their detention, but the overarching motives are pretty clear.
DTH: Why do you think the prisoners were released?
CK: It appears that these releases are related to the nuclear deal that the U.S. and its allies struck with Iran last year, which has generated a personal relationship between officials in the two governments and has demonstrated the benefits of deescalation of tensions between the two countries.
DTH: Do you think that the deescalation of tensions could be mutually beneficial?