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John Kerry: Iran nuclear deal talks "accelerated" prisoner swap

Last Updated Jan 16, 2016 8:32 PM EST

Secretary of State John Kerry touted the powers of diplomacy Saturday, saying that the nuclear deal with Iran and six other nations had "accelerated" the release of five Americans previously held in Iran.

"There is no question that the pace and the progress of the humanitarian talks accelerated in light of the relationships forged and the diplomatic channels unlocked over the course of the nuclear talks," Kerry told reporters in Vienna.

While the secretary denied that the two tracks of negotiations were directly related, since the landmark agreement was reached last summer, Kerry noted "a significant pick-up" in talks to release the American prisoners.

The nation's top diplomat confirmed that the four dual-citizen Americans "unjustly detained" by Iran, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, "should be on their way home to their families" Saturday. In exchange, the United States offered clemency to seven Iranians accused of violating Iran sanctions.

A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was also freed by Iran authorities Saturday outside of the swap. Late Saturday, a senior administration official said that Trevithick had departed from Iran.

Hours after the announcement of the prisoner trade Saturday, President Obama lifted U.S. sanctions against Iran, issuing an executive order after the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the country had met its obligations under the international nuclear deal.

"We have reached implementation day," Kerry said in Vienna. "Today marks the moment that the Iran nuclear agreement transitions from an ambitious set of promises on paper to measurable action in progress. Today, as a result of the actions taken since last July, the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East and the entire world are safer because the threat of a nuclear weapon has been reduced."

Kerry assured reporters that Iran had reduced its nuclear stockpile and taken out its centrifuges and supporting infrastructure.

"They've literally taken it out. Dismantled. Stored," Kerry said. He added that the removed hardware has been sealed up "under around-the-clock monitoring by the IAEA."

"Today, the IAEA has put in place every one of the transparency and verification measures" required by the nuclear agreement, the secretary said. Those actions would guarantee that it would take Iran at least a year to try and develop nuclear weaponry, according to the nuclear agency. And if Iran ever decided to break the deal, Kerry assured, "we would know it almost immediately."

While the secretary acknowledged that implementation of the deal "does not wipe away all of the concerns" surrounding Iran, he touted "diplomacy's power to tackle significant challenges."

International leaders like Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also celebrated the achievement.

In a tweet, Rouhani heralded "#ImplementationDay" as a "glorious victory":

And IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano praised the "new phase" of dealings with the Middle East power.

"Relations between Iran and the IAEA now enter a new phase. It is an important day for the international community. I congratulate all those who helped make it a reality," Amano said Saturday.

But back at home, Republicans have already begun hammering the administration over the deal, and in a statement released Saturday House Speaker Paul Ryan charged that Iran will likely use the cash infusion "to finance terrorists."

Ryan added that the House has already voted to reject the deal and would "continue to do everything possible to prevent a nuclear Iran."