Release of European prisoners was part of Belgium's Vandecasteele deal with Iran

The release of the three European prisoners from Iran on Friday constitutes the second and final phase of a wider operation that allowed the return of Olivier Vandecasteele last week. According to Belgian government sources, it is the first time an EU member state has succeeded in freeing citizens of other member states from Iran.

The Austrian government has revealed the identities of the two Austrian-Iranian prisoners who were released on Friday. One is 76-year-old Massoud Mossaheb, who was arrested in 2019, and the other is businessman Kamran Ghaderi, arrested in 2016. Both ​ were sentenced to 10 years in jail for espionage. Denmark did not provide additional information on the identity of the Danish prisoner.

"We could not say anything because there was a risk that an early announcement would complicate things"

The release of the three Europeans was an integral part of Operation Blackstone, which led to Vandecasteele's release from an Iranian prison last week. Iran insisted that the operation had to be done in two phases. "We had to bite our tongue last week, but we could not say anything because there was a risk that an early announcement would complicate things," government sources said.

Two phases

It reportedly took a long time to convince the regime in Tehran that there should be a broader agreement, whereby not only Vandecasteele but also other European prisoners would be released in exchange for convicted Iranian terrorist Assadollah Assadi.

In total, Vandecasteele was locked up for 455 days. Belgium wanted to apply "a broader European logic" from the start of the negotiations. This included Swedish professor Ahmadreza Djalali, who has taught at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, but that was "non-negotiable" for Iran. There was an opening for Vandecasteele's release, with Oman as guarantor, "and we tried to get the most out of it for other Europeans".

Austria and Denmark thank Belgium

Austrian Foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg and his Danish counterpart, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, thanked Belgium and Oman for their efforts. "I'd like to thank our close partner, Belgium, for its immense efforts to make this happen. Oman has also played an important role. The Danish government is very grateful," Rasmussen said.

"I'd like to thank our close partner, Belgium, for its immense efforts to make this happen"

Iran had already released two French prisoners last month. "One can indeed see that as a form of easing by Iran" towards Europe. "Something is moving in a positive sense, but we have to wait and see how long that will last and how far it will go," government sources said. After today's release, 22 EU nationals remain in Iranian prisons.


King Philippe of Belgium meets Olivier Vandecasteele after his release from an Iranian prison © BELGA PHOTO POOL OLIVIER POLET

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