President Obama Says US Seeing Results of Diplomacy With Iran

PHOTO: President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the relations between U.S. and Iran, including the release of the U.S. hostages that were held in Iran, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Jan. 17, 2016 in Washington.PlayAude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images
WATCH President Obama Discusses Iran Relations After Nuclear Deal

The implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal and five Americans freed by Tehran in a prisoner swap are reasons for optimism, President Obama said Sunday during a rare weekend address, showing the fruits of diplomacy with a still-hostile adversary of the United States.

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"This is a good day," the president said. "Once again, we’re seeing what’s possible with strong American diplomacy."

Four U.S. citizens freed by Iran -- including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian -- were released Sunday, according to a senior administration official and their families. A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, had already left the country.

“They never gave in and they never gave up,” Obama said of the Americans, some of whom reportedly experienced torture in years-long detentions.

As part of the prisoner swap, the U.S. offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or were awaiting trial in the U.S., said the official. The U.S. also removed Interpol red notices and dismissed charges against 14 Iranians for whom extradition was unlikely to be successful.

Sanctions against Iran were also lifted Saturday as part of its nuclear deal. Obama said the negotiations made way for a new diplomatic channel with Iran, one that he said would remain open during the search for former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was last seen on Iran's Kish Island in March 2007.

Obama also hailed the cooperation between Iranian and U.S. diplomats that secured the release of 10 sailors last week who drifted into Iranian territorial waters.

“Some folks here in Washington rushed to declare that it was the start of another hostage crisis,” Obama said. “Instead, we worked directly with the Iranian government and secured the release of our sailors in less than 24 hours.”

During his statement, the president also announced the resolution of a decades-long financial dispute that will result in the U.S. sending back $400 million to Iran, plus $1.3 billion in interest. He explained the settlement would save billions of dollars that “could have been pursued by Iran.”

“Nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” Obama said.

Obama also reiterated what he said was proof of the strength of American diplomacy.

“These things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and wisdom,” he said.

Though the president touted improved relations with Tehran, the U.S. Treasury announced earlier Sunday new sanctions as part of Iran's ballistic missile program. Obama said the U.S. would strictly enforce new sanctions directed at curbing Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East but added "we have a rare chance to pursue a new path."