Reports of prisoner swap with U.S. not true, Iran says

May 4, 2021 - 20:3

TEHRAN – Iranian officials have responded to press reports alleging that Tehran and Washington agreed to swap prisoners amid nuclear talks in Vienna.

Iran's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi has not confirmed some news about an alleged agreement on the reciprocal release of prisoners between Tehran and Washington, according to the Iranian government’s official website.

Earlier on Sunday, the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen news television reported that the U.S. agreed to release four Iranian nationals accused of bypassing sanctions and unblock $7 billion of Iranian assets in the U.S in exchange for Iran releasing four American citizens detained in Iran on charges of conducting espionage for the U.S.

The Biden administration wanted to avoid paying any sums of frozen Iranian money during the negotiations but the Iranian side insisted on the necessity of releasing part of the Iranian funds, according to Al Mayadeen.

Al Mayadeen also reported that similar security negotiations between the Iranian and British sides were underway with the British side discussing with Iran the release of 400 million pounds of frozen Iranian funds in the UK.

The news is not confirmed [by Iran], Takht Ravanchi said.

However, Iran has always emphasized comprehensive exchange of prisoners between the two countries, he added.

As Takht Ravanchi noted, the Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly presented the issue of the exchange of prisoners, but the American side has rejected it under baseless excuses.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, also repudiated the Al Mayadeen report, saying while the issue of prisoners has always been on Iran’s agenda, the Sunday evening report by Lebanon’s Arabic-language al-Mayadeen news network is untrue.

Khatibzadeh said the issue of prisoners is a humanitarian one and has not been pursued through nuclear talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Khatibzadeh said, “The issue of prisoners has been a humanitarian issue which has always been on the agenda of the Islamic Republic of Iran and has been pursued through other conversations and [diplomatic] channels separately from the JCPOA or related issues.”

Khatibzadeh also denied reports that Tehran and London had been in talks over the release of Nazanin Zaghari, an Iranian national who was found guilty of propaganda activities against the government last month and sentenced to one year in prison, according to Press TV.

“There are no legal talks between us and Britain on this. The Judiciary must comment on the case,” the spokesman said, adding, “What is being discussed is about issues related to relations between the two countries. Of course, the British government has presented its views to us on various issues, and we have given back very clear answers.”

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price also denied the report on Sunday. “As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families,” he said.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain similarly said the report was untrue, adding there was no agreement to release the four Americans.

“We’re working very hard to get them released,” Klain told CBS’s Face the Nation. “We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time, but so far there’s no agreement.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also claimed that the fate of Nazanin Zaghari was tied to the outcome of talks in Vienna on the future of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in addition to a debt that the UK government owes to Iran.

Tehran has repeatedly said that the debt Britain owes to Iran arising from the non-delivery of Chieftain tanks ordered by Iran’s former regime is not related to Zaghari's case.

Khatibzadeh said the debt dates back to several decades ago but has not been paid due to unimportant reasons.

“The original debt must have been paid off a long time ago,” the spokesman stated. “The sooner the British government fulfills its obligation, the better.”

Iran has been open to talking about the release of prisoners. Mahmoud Vaezi, the Iranian president’s chief of staff, had said that Iran has "not blocked the way to negotiate the release of prisoners abroad, and we seek to release all our prisoners in the United States or other countries.”

Responding to a question on whether Iran and the U.S. have negotiated about the release of prisoners, Vaezi noted, “This issue has always been raised and we have never opposed it and it is always raised between us and others.”

“There are talks on this issue through intermediaries so that we can release all our prisoners in the United States or other countries,” Vazei said in April.

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