(Reuters) - The prisoner exchange between the United States and Iran won praise from some Iranian American organizations on Sunday, even as the U.S. imposed new sanctions on those who supply Iran’s ballistic missile system.
Three Americans who had been imprisoned in Iran arrived in Germany on Sunday as the United States pardoned seven Iranians held on alleged sanctions violations. The two countries had prolonged negotiations for the exchange as they also crafted an agreement announced last summer to restrict Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
“I’m so happy for those people and their families to be relieved of this agony,” said Ali Shakeri, an American businessman who is with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California-Irvine and was imprisoned in Iran in 2007.
The prisoner exchange and nuclear agreement hold promise for ending decades-long hostility between Iran and the U.S., Shakeri said.
“This is the first giant step to break their ice of communications,” he said. “It will be fruitful and good for these great nations.”
The American Iranian Council, which promotes better relationships between the U.S. and Iran, went further, praising the deals between Washington and Teheran as portending a turning point after 37 years of icy relations between the two countries, beginning with Iranian revolution of 1979.
"The prisoner exchange, Iran's dutiful implementation of its nuclear obligations, and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions all herald a new era of US-Iran relations,” Kayvon Afshari, council spokesman, said in an email on Sunday.
Hours after each side released prisoners, President Obama on Sunday announced new sanctions on 11 companies and individuals who supply Iran’s ballistic missile system.
“I don’t see these sanctions as being any kind of game changers,” said Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council, an organization that assists Iranian-American citizens. “They involve low-level small actors."
Abdi said the timing of the new sanctions signaled Washington intended to minimize the political damage on the Iranian side.
In a statement released earlier this weekend NIAC President Trita Parsi said the prisoner exchange was long overdue.
“The agreement to free Americans imprisoned in Iran is a triumph of diplomacy that should be universally commended,” Parsi said.
But Parsi said Iran must do more to keep Americans from feeling threatened while in that country and she said Iran has much work to do for its own people.
Some Iranian Americans said the negotiators ignored human rights violations in Iran. Iran is a country of vast poverty, executions, and scant rights for women, said Manoucherh Ganji, a Californian and former education minister for the Shah of Iran who lectures on conditions in Iran.
"They are closing their eyes to this,” Ganji said on Sunday. “They don’t talk about it. They have been talking only about releasing a few political prisoners. It's unbelievable.”
Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Chris Reese