Just hours before Obama's final State of the Union address, Iran seized two U.S. Navy boats and 10 sailors who had drifted into the country's territorial waters.
Iran released the sailors.
Thursday, Jan 14
A video of the U.S. sailors on their knees with their hands on their heads threatened to undercut the Obama administration's claim that their quick release demonstrated improved relations between Washington and Tehran.
The United States and Iran concluded months of secret negotiations and struck a massive prisoner-swap deal. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati, Pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari were released from Iranian custody in exchange for seven Iranians who were not convicted of violent crimes but of violating the sanctions ban against Iran.
A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was also released by Iran, though his release was not part of the negotiated prisoner swap.
The International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had fulfilled its obligations under the nuclear deal that six world powers struck with Tehran. The United States responded by announcing it would end its sanctions on Iran, freeing up $150 billion in frozen assets.
The State Department said it had agreed to pay the Iranian government $1.7 billion
-- settling a case that had been tied up at the Hague Tribunal since 1981 after $400 million in Iranian assets were frozen along with diplomatic relations in 1979. The two countries agreed on a $1.3 billion compromise on interest.
A plane carrying the three Americans who'd wished to leave Iran after the prisoner swap was completed arrived on a U.S. Air Force base in Germany after a brief stop in Switzerland.