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Four Freed Americans To Be Treated At U.S. Base; Lawyer of Freed Iranian-Americans Speaks. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2016 - 06:00   ET



[06:00:07] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you. We welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. We are beginning with breaking news out of the Iran at any moment.

PAUL: We are expecting to hear that the four Americans freed in a prisoner swap are on their way out of Iran. We are talking about Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosravi- Roodsari. They are about to begin their journey, we believe, back to the United States, but we have other people to contend with here in the U.S. first.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we know that there are seven Iranian citizens recently who have been recently released and are being handed over.

We know that the group that's coming out of Iran may be headed to Switzerland where they could meet with Secretary Of State John Kerry in Geneva before flying to the Landstuhl Army Base in Germany where they'll receive medical attention. From Germany they will head back to the U.S.

PAUL: A fifth American prisoner, Matthew Trevithick who's released was unrelated to this swap, and as we understand it has already left Iran. We are also and seven Iranians have been released whose charges have been dismissed as part of the prisoner swap.

All seven, we understand, just walked away from a detention center moments ago as part of a coordinated release here. So we are following this story from around the world this morning with a team of CNN correspondents.

BLACKWELL: We begin with CNN senior international correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen, live from Landstuhl, Germany. Let's begin with the breaking news of those Iranians who were held in America -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, we just got word a couple of minutes ago from the lawyers of one of these Iranians who just got released that they have just been able to walk free.

And apparently, it was the case that three of them walked out of a detention facility in the United States and there were four others who were released from other detention centers somewhere else in America.

But the fact of the matter is that we were thinking this is a coordinated swap that is going on between the U.S. and Iran. So it could very well be that the Americans who were held in Iran are now possibly on their way as well.

We have no confirmation of that as yet, but that is certainly something that could be the case if, in fact, now these Iranians have gone free.

All seven individuals were people who were incarcerated for essentially busting the sanctions against Iran for acquiring satellite equipment, technology. That was distant for Iran, of course, while Iran was under sanctions.

Now those seven Iranians have received clemency in return for those four Americans who were in custody of the Iranians -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Fred, let's talk about the Americans who are expected to travel to where you are at Landstuhl. Do we have any idea on when that will happen? Again, we just learned the seven Iranians have been released and the expectation is the Americans will be freed either simultaneously or in a few moments.

PLEITGEN: Yes. You know what? There are several factors that we need to take into account. One of the questions would all of them have been released simultaneously? The Iranians and the Americans.

That would mean that possibly they would just now be released. They would still have to make their way to the airport and still have to get on a plane. It's unclear where the Americans are at this point in time.

One thing I can tell you is that once they take off from Tehran International Airport, it's about a 4-1/2 hour flight to here in Europe, in Germany, or in Switzerland. It's unclear whether or not they will make some stops in Switzerland.

Because it appears as though the Swiss might be some sort of intermediary between the U.S. and the Iranians. We do know that, at some point, they are expected to land here at Ramstein Air Base and could be a couple of hours off.

They would be taken off the plane and driven a mile and a half from here Ramstein Air Base to the Landstuhl medical facility, which is of course one of America's biggest army hospitals outside of the U.S.

A medical center that is very well known for treating people who got wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, and of course, also a lot of Americans who got to travel overseas and needed medical attention.

This is the place where they go. We expect them to come here in a couple of hours. The actual flight time from Tehran to this part of Europe is about four and a half, maybe five hours.

BLACKWELL: All right, Frederik Pleitgen for us there at Landstuhl in Germany, Fred, thank you so much.

PAUL: We want to go now to CNN chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, who is joining us from London. Christiane, thank you so much.

We have been talking about this release. Do you have any indication, as we talk about a simultaneous release, as we believe it is worked out to be, how would that actually be worked out?

Are there people on the phone saying, OK, we have released our side, you release yours, so they try to do it truly as simultaneously as possible? How does it work? Do you know?

[06:05:09]CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I think those details are going to be the fascinating ones to unpick after the fact. But certainly, as we know, there have been months of separate negotiations, although connected to the nuclear deal on these prisoners.

And Iran has always wanted so-called a goodwill gesture regarding its prisoners and the United States, obviously, wanted its prisoners out, including our colleague the journalist, Jason Rezaian from "The Washington Post."

It is entirely likely as Fred was outlining and as we were talking about yesterday that this is a simultaneous and will be a simultaneous event. Neither side wants to be seen as going first or anything in that regard.

So that is very likely and we are waiting to see when with the Americans touch down as has been said by "The Washington Post," the employer at one of those Americans perhaps first in Geneva and then in Germany to get medical treatment before coming home.

I spoke to the Iranian Foreign Ministry and I asked them whether they have --

PAUL: Did we lose Christiane?

BLACKWELL: Yes, I think we have. I think one of the questions, follow-up questions was here we reported this in the 9:00 hour yesterday after it was reported by the semiofficial for a news agency in Iran.

It's taken 21 hours before the official swap or on the release of any of these prisoners. What happened in those 21 hours that got to this point? And why did it take so long?

So hopefully, we will be able to get that from Christiane when we get her back on the phone. We are going to continue with the breaking news of the Iranians held here in America just been released.

Jill Androphy, the lawyer for, Bahram Mechanich, one of the Iranians released by the U.S. in this prisoner swap joins us on the phone from Texas.

We are hearing the Iranians have been freed. Tell us more about how this happened this morning and what happens next for your client.

JOEL ANDROPHY, LAWYER FOR BAHRAM MECHANICH (via telephone): Well, we were contacted on Wednesday and told that we would be receiving a pardon on Friday. On Friday, we were told that there had been a delay because all the deal had not been finally consummated yet.

But we were told to be there on Saturday morning at 5:30 because they expected at that time the Americans in Iran would have been released and outside of Iranian air space. We stayed at the jail yesterday. Our clients were prepared to leave.

Mr. Mechanich had been out of his prison garb, and normal business attire, and had been basically released from prison from his cell, but he was not allowed to leave the facility.

President Obama had already signed his pardon, but he could not be released because the Americans had not left Iranian air space. So 8:00 on Saturday night we were still waiting in the jail for this to happen.

But unfortunately, Tehran was nine hours ahead of us and we were told that the Iranians would not allow the airplane with the Americans to be flown outside of Tehran until they received their funds that they expected in the nuclear deal arrangement they have with the United States.

So they had told the United States that we are going to wait for the funds. The funds were received, but they decided not to fly out at night. They said we will fly out in the morning so we were asked to come back to the jail this morning at 1:30.

Because that gave enough time for the Americans to be flown out of Iran and outside of the air space, and at about -- let me see -- at about 4:00 this morning, maybe 4:15, the word came in with the pardons and said you're free to leave, the Americans had been finally released. They are going to be home.

BLACKWELL: Mr. Androphy, let me just make clear on one point here because up to this point and your description of the chronology here, what we have been led to believe that these were two parallel negotiations.

The Iran nuclear deal completely separate from the negotiations for this swap, some for prisoners and others for hostages, but from what you're saying is that the Iranians would not release the Americans until the funds were released as part of that nuclear deal. Is that what you're saying?

ANDROPHY: That's what we were told, yes. All I know is what the government tells me. I'm listening to the Department of Justice, the State Department, and I'm also talking to the head of Legal Affairs and Protocol for the Iran interest section in the United States, or the Iranian consulate.

[06:10:08]So I'm trying to get my information from multiple sources.

BLACKWELL: But when you say the government, you're saying the American government or the Iranian government told you that?



PAUL: Now that your client has been freed, is it just your three clients that have been freed or all seven that you know of?

ANDROPHY: No, all seven were freed as part of a joint hostage deal. There is four other gentlemen in the United States that have been freed.

PAUL: Where are they going? As I understand, I mean, these -- six of these men have dual U.S. Iranian citizenship. Do they plan to stay in the U.S.?

ANDROPHY: As far as I know, they are all staying in the U.S. for a while. One of the defendants may move back to Tehran. My client is going to stay here, although he has a business in Tehran that he needs to be handled, at least at this juncture. He is staying in the United States. He is a U.S. citizen and a resident.

BLACKWELL: My apologies. The expectation is that the Americans were being freed in Tehran will go to Landstuhl for medical attention and then likely to the U.S. Will your clients go to any medical facility or will they go straight home to their families? What is next for them in the short term?

ANDROPHY: No, they were in a federal detention facility getting medical care while they were at the facility. They are at home now. They left the facility this morning probably at a quarter of 5:00, left at quarter of 5:00 at a Houston facility and at home now. They are not going to any medical facility in Houston because they came from a federal detention, which has a medical facility.

PAUL: OK, Joel Androphy, we so appreciate you being with us. Thank you for walking us through what happened this morning there in Texas. We appreciate it.

We want to get back to CNN chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. Christiane, I'm sorry that technically we lost you there for a couple of minutes.

One of the things Victor and I have been talking about this morning is the amount of time. We were sitting here yesterday when they announced that these prisoners were going to be released.

And now we are 21 hours later and it seems it is just happening. What would you suspect or do you have any indication as to what the delay would be?

AMANPOUR (via telephone): Well, I think, Christi, this is perhaps natural and in this complicated and difficult world and in this very sensitive issue. We will probably know the details when all sides are released and people start talking publicly. What we do know from the American and Iranian officials, I personally spoke to the Iranian Foreign Ministry that all sides have been released. And the Americans say that the Iranian-Americans held hostage, held prisoner in Iran have been released.

So the question now is logistical. When are they getting on that plane and when are they going to land? We will find that out sooner or later.

The big picture, though, the conflict for all of this is the Iranian nuclear deal and again everybody agrees that this was something simultaneously planned as a goodwill gesture, as sort of a garnish, if you like, on the very tough diplomatic wrangling and negotiations over more than a year.

That led last summer to the nuclear deal between Iran, the United States, and the major world powers. So what happened in Europe yesterday in Vienna, the headquarters of the U.N. nuclear watchdog was that Iran was declared in compliance of its requirements under this deal so far.

And therefore, certain sanctions, which involved them being able to sell their oil, plus being reconnected to the international banking system, those will now go into effect.

At the same time, the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, will be -- is, in fact, traveling to Tehran and will speak to Iran about its continuing obligations.

The Secretary of State John Kerry has talked about that publicly, hailing this day as a good step for safety and security and one that keeps the world a safer place now that there is a nuclear deal with Iran that requires continued tough, you know, monitoring.

That's what these prisoner swaps are related to and I think one of the issues is that many people are saying that the United States has actually done quite a big thing by releasing people who actually convicted of crimes and violations against the sanctions regime.

Whereas as we know, for instance, the journalist Jason Rezaian had no legitimate charges against him at all and was so-called tried in secret and sentenced to an undetermined time. There is a bit of a disparity between who was held in Iran and who was held in the United States.

PAUL: Christiane, I just want to get your take on something that one of the attorneys for three of the Iranians who have been released here in America had to say to us.

Joel Androphy told us that he was told the reason it took a while was because we believe that the prisoners had to be released simultaneously, but he was told until Iran received their funds from this deal with the IAEA, that they were not going to release the prisoners and that is what took so long.

I think there was an understanding or a belief that these were two separate deals, so to speak. What does it tell you that he is being told, not just by the U.S. government, by the Iran government as well, that they were waiting until they received their funds before they would release the Americans?

AMANPOUR: Well, again, I'm not privy to that kind of information and I don't know the specifics, but is there no doubt that these were not two separate deals, no matter how people tried to discuss it.

Yes, there were probably two separate parties dealing with the two separate tracks, so to speak, but it's all part of one deal to get implementation day and some kind of goodwill gesture to accentuate that day. And that's what this prisoner swap is.

I think we should stop talking about the Iranians and Americans. They are all of them Iranian American jewel citizens and that is who they are.

Right now, we're seeing the results of a long, difficult, and patient, and sensitive diplomatic track which has led first to the nuclear deal and concurrently and consequently to the release of these prisoners.

We are waiting to see the faces of those who are freed from the Iranian jail and be able to speak much more definitively once we see that.

All of those who know, for instance, the U.S. officials, the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and "The Washington Post," who at least is the employer of one of those, our colleague, Jason Rezaian, they all said that any time now that their people will be back on terror firmer.

PAUL: Christiane Amanpour, we so appreciate all of the insight you bring to us. Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Thanks, Christi.

BLACKWELL: And of course, those seven U.S. Iranian citizens have been now released. We are told by an attorney for one of them still waiting for confirmation from the U.S. or Iranian government that this swap has happened.

We are also awaiting for confirmation that the Americans held in Iran have been freed. Now more than 21 hours after the announcement of this swap, we will continue to follow the breaking news.

We have correspondents covering this around the world. Keep is right here. We will be right back.



PAUL: We are so glad to have you with us. We are following breaking news this hour. The release of seven Iranians here in the U.S. Their charges were dismissed as part of this prisoner swap we've been talking about. All seven, we understand, walked away from a detention center just a short time ago. This is part of a coordinated release obviously. President Rouhani, Iran's president is expected to speak in the next hour.

We also expect to hear from President Obama at some point on this deal. Secretary of State John Kerry, though, welcomed the release of the five Americans held in Iran. Listen to what he had to say in Vienna.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Very happy to say that, as we speak, we have received confirmation that five Americans who had been unjustly detained in Iran have been released from custody and they should be on their way home to their families before long, shortly.


PAUL: Now the prisoner exchange was the result of 14 months of secret diplomacy and talks between Washington and Tehran. In the background, of course, of the nuclear talks another step in the thawing of the relations between the U.S. and Iran.

BLACKWELL: CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson is live in Vienna where the deal was reached between Iran and U.S. and several other world powers.

Nic, I think one element that we heard leading up to the release with the swap was that these were separate, but parallel, negotiations, the nuclear deal and for the swap.

But what we heard from the attorney for at least one of those American Iranian citizens who was held in the U.S. is that the Iranians would not release the Americans until the money, the tens of billions of dollars were released to them. So at least some connection there.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That is certainly how it's beginning to emerge. Certainly, we have heard the narrative these have been two separate and parallel conversations.

And it certainly appears that both Secretary Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have both emphasized over recent days the importance of diplomacy.

It's been very clear that the two men have come to a stronger understanding of each other's positions or their own country's positions.

What we understand, over the last few days, particularly with the release of the American sailors in the gulf after they have been captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard released in a very short space of time that that was something that Secretary Kerry got involved in very quickly.

We saw how the diplomacy there worked. When it comes to this prisoner exchange that we are now discussing, you know, there were many, many meetings over many hours in this hotel behind me here in Vienna and other locations in Europe where secretary contrary and his counterpart, the Iranian foreign minister would sit down and meet.

Occasionally, cameras were not allowed in at all. Occasionally, cameras were allowed in to spray the first few minutes of those meetings. We got briefings how the nuclear negotiations were going at certain stages.

After a couple of weeks, sometimes you would get sort of a detailed analysis of what had been accomplished and expected to be accomplished, but never was it discussed with us anything about the prisoner exchange.

What was discussed privately in those meetings between Secretary Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister now beginning to emerge that quite potentially they could finish their sanctions on the Iranian negotiations and separate topic pick up on the track of this prisoner exchange.

Now how in the minds of both sides here these two parallel tracks were interwoven and how they were important to both the United States and Iran, we know that Secretary Kerry took a huge amount of political heat when he signed this deal last summer without the release of the American prisoners.

We know there was a lot at stake politically here. This was a business that would muddy and cloud the waters between the relationship between the United States and Iran. So important politically to have that achieved.

How this was important to Iran, was this a bargaining chip for them? Put these prisoners on a table for an exchange of prisoners that are held unjustly like the Iranian Americans held in the United States, convicted in courts?

That these would be the ultimate bargaining chips and was this in Iran's mind all the way through? We don't know that.

[06:25:07]BLACKWELL: One American who is not coming home with the others who are we expect en route to Germany is Robert Levinson. Do we know if there is work being done to return for the CIA contractor who disappeared more than eight years ago now?

ROBERTSON: In 2007 on the island of Kish, a former FBI official working for a contractor for the CIA, we understand. The Iranian government has never admitted that they hold him. He is now the longest held American prisoner overseas in recent times.

A video about four years after his capture, his disappearance was released asking for his release. The Iranian government, as far as we know, has said that they will look into this issue.

That they haven't said that they have custody of him and they haven't said, as far as we know, of course, we now know a lot happens behind the scenes and not surprisingly without our knowledge, we don't know what is happening behind the scenes.

But, at the moment, in the context of this prisoner exchange, his name is not coming forward. Obviously, a huge disappointment for his family.

BLACKWELL: They have been very critical over the years of the U.S. government saying that not enough is being done. Some intermediaries and liaisons that could be used are not being used, at least that's their characterization.

Nic Robertson there for us in Vienna, Nic, thank you so much.

PAUL: Let's bring in CNN's Chris Frates, following this story from Washington. Chris, we are wondering if there is any indication as to when we might hear from President Obama on this.

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Christi, that is the 64,000 dollar question since the news broke yesterday that the Americans were in fact being freed. But as Nic just pointed out it's a really complex situation with lots of moving parts.

Right now, we are waiting on official confirmation that the Americans have, indeed, left Iran. They are expected to first go to Germany. That's according to a congressman who is headed there to meet "The Washington Post" journalist, Jason Rezaian.

And senior administration officials tell me they expect the Americans will get any medical attention they need because remember Rezaian, for instance, spent more than 500 days in one of Iran's most notorious prisons. That is longer than the Iran hostage crisis.


KERRY: We have made vital breakthroughs --

FRATES (voice-over): Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the release of the five Americans.

KERRY: I am very happy to say that, as we speak, we have received confirmation that five Americans who had been unjustly detained in Iran, have been released from custody.

FRATES: In exchange for the Americans' release the Obama administration agreed to grant clemency for seven Iranians charged with violating U.S. sanctions.

The deal kept more than 14 months of secret diplomacy between Washington and Tehran. The announcement came the same day the Iran nuclear deal went into effect and international sanctions against Iran were lifted.

Freed in the deal "The Washington Post" reporter, Jason Rezaian, who was arrested on charges of spying and spent more than 500 days in Iran's most notorious prison. After a closed door trial, he was convicted of espionage. A charge his family and the paper's executive strongly denies. Among the other men released were former Marine, Amir Hikmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini. Family members said they were overjoyed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via telephone): A great, joyful day. My kids cannot stop just running around and asking me every other second when they will get to hug daddy.

FRATES: Republicans on the campaign trail criticize the Obama administration.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now I have to see what the deal is for the four people because somebody said they are getting seven people back. So essentially they get 150 billion plus seven and we get four? Doesn't sound too good.

FRATES: Another warning from Republicans, Iran can't be trusted.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This tells us all we need to know about the Iranian (inaudible). That they can take people hostage in order to gain concessions.


FRATES: The Americans who is not coming home is CIA contractor, Robert Levinson, who last seen on an Iranian island. U.S. officials say Iran has pledged to help the U.S. look for Levinson.

We are also getting word this morning from one of the lawyers for the Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. that their release has not yet happened.

White House officials say that we won't get more information on the Iranians being swapped until the Americans are safely out of Iran -- Christi, Victor.

PAUL: All right, Chris Frates, thank you so much.

Just to give you an update here real quickly, folks. We know that those seven Iranians have been released. Some of them actually are already on their way home. That is per one of the attorneys for three of those people who have been held here in America.

Again, those seven have, indeed, been released. We are just waiting for confirmation to find out whether the five Americans who have been held in Iran are, indeed, on their way home as well.

Next hour, by the way, we are going to hear reaction about the release from the Democratic presidential candidates and then it is a can't miss episode of "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 Eastern.