Prisoner swap took place without direct talks with Washington: Zarif aide

December 10, 2019 - 21:13

TEHRAN – An aide to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said Iran and the U.S. swapped prisoners without holding direct talks.

The Iranian government thought about many aspects of the swap, especially the humanitarian aspect, Mohsen Baharvand told IRNA on Tuesday.

“Previously, there were some talks about the Iranian and American prisoners who were swapped,” Baharvand said. “Zarif had talked about it on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in an interview. Some others such as former U.S. ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson talked with Zarif, but we didn’t hold direct talks with the U.S. government, meaning that we didn’t sit down for talks with them.”

The remarks came a few days after Iran and the United States exchanged prisoners. An Iranian scientist was released by the U.S. and Iran released an American detained for three years on spying charges.

Masoud Soleimani, a 49-year-old stem cell scientist, left Iran on sabbatical last year, but was arrested upon arrival in Chicago and transferred to prison in Atlanta, Georgia for unspecified reasons.

The prisoner exchange happened through mediation efforts by Switzerland. 

After he was released, Soleimani flew along with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from Zurich to Tehran on Saturday.

Zarif said on Monday that Iran is ready for a full prisoner swap with the United States, noting that the “ball is in the U.S.’s court”.

“After getting our hostage back this week, fully ready for comprehensive prisoner exchange,” Zarif said via Twitter.

Hours before Zarif’s Monday tweet, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei announced Iran’s readiness for more prisoner swaps with the United States.

“We are ready to cooperate to return all Iranians unlawfully imprisoned in the U.S.,” Rabiei told reporters at a press conference in Tehran. 

He said, however, that there will be no other talks with the U.S. beside this issue.