Prisoner swap not part of Vienna talks, Russia says

May 5, 2021 - 18:28

TEHRAN – Exchanging prisoners between Iran and the United States is not on the agenda of the Vienna nuclear deal talks between Tehran and the P4+1 group of countries, a senior Russian diplomat has said.

The comments came against the backdrop of speculations over a potential exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States amid nuclear deal talks in Vienna.

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.

But Mikhail Ulyanov, who serves as the Russian envoy to the nuclear deal talks, said the issue of detainees was not on the table in the Vienna talks.

“American or Iranian detainees are not a part of the Vienna talks,” Ulyanov said on Twitter.

He was commenting on a commentary by a former American official who anticipated “some kind of unacknowledged deal” to pay Iran for the release of American prisoners alongside the return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iranian and American officials both denied the reports of a prisoner swap. Iran's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi said the news of the swap is not confirmed by Iran. But at the same time, he underlined a comprehensive exchange of prisoners between the two countries.

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, according to Takht Ravanchi.

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-British national who was found guilty of propaganda activities against the Iranian 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.”

Diplomats from Iran and the P4+1 group of countries have been in Vienna since April to negotiate possible U.S. return to the JCPOA as well as the lifting of the U.S. sanctions on Tehran. So far, at least three rounds of talks have been held between the two sides, with the European signatories to the JCPOA shuttling between Iranian and American negotiating teams, who are conducting talks from separate hotels.

Meanwhile, three expert working groups have been established to study a range of issues such as sanctions lifting, reversal of Iran’s nuclear measures, and practical arrangements needed by the U.S. to lift the sanctions. Almost all sides have said the talks are making progress, though so far there has been no immediate diplomatic breakthrough.


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