WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States and Iran are in active negotiations on the release of prisoners, a person familiar with the discussions said on Sunday, while Washington denied reports by Iranian state television that the deal had taken place.
Exchanges of prisoners between the United States and Iran are not uncommon, and the two countries in recent years have routinely asked for the release of detainees. But any move between the two countries is particularly sensitive, as the Biden administration appears to have begun another nuclear deal. The 2015 International Atomic Agreement includes prisoner exchanges.
The issue comes from public view, with reports in Iran about an agreement for the Islamic Republic to release US and British prisoners in exchange for billions of dollars in Tehran. U.S. officials immediately denied the report, although a person with knowledge of the discussions, who was not authorized to speak to them, said public negotiations were active, with messages being sent between intermediaries.
It was not immediately clear whether the report showed a hard-line movement taken with Iranian broadcasters to block talks with the West amid talks in Vienna over Tehran̵7;s resplendent nuclear deal.
Despite the first American denial But broadcasters on Iranian television kept making repeated announcements.
“Some sources say that four Iranian prisoners will be released and that Iran will receive $ 7 billion in exchange for the release of four American spies,” the female anchor said. She explained that the deal came as a result of parliamentary pressure on President Joe Biden and his “urgent need to show progress in the Iranian case”.
But Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Tak-Irawanchi, denied the prisoner exchange reports, saying: “Unconfirmed” according to the state-run IRNA telegraph channel.
“Iran has always been focused on a comprehensive prisoner exchange between the two countries,” he said, without elaborating.
State TV did not state Iranians that Tehran wanted to be independent.
State Department spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iran TV report.
“Reports that the prison exchange agreement has been reached is not true,” Price said. “As we have said, we often refer to Americans detained or lost in Iran. We won’t stop until we can reunite with their families. ”
Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain told CBS “Face the Nation”: “Unfortunately, the report is not true. There is no agreement to release these four Americans. “
“We are working hard to get them released,” Klain said. “We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time. But until now, there has not been any agreement. “
Tehran has arrested four Americans known to be in prison now: Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi, an Iranian-American businessman, long accused of arresting prisoners of Western ties for use. As a bargaining chip in later negotiations
Despite the American denial But there are also signs that a deal with prisoners could be in the works, according to Iranian officials in recent weeks..
Although no formal proposal for an exchange has yet been presented to officials in Washington. But the White House has only been signed, the specifics of reports from Iran suggest that at least a work-level review of the deal is pending.
State television also cited sources that an agreement was reached for Britain to pay £ 400 million ($ 552 million) to watch the release of British woman Nzanin Sagari-Ratcliffe. Iran
British officials play the report. The foreign office said the country is still “exploring options to resolve this 40-year-old case and we will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing”.
Other than the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe The UK and Iran have been negotiating British debt with Tehran since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Last week Zaghari-Ratcliffe She was sentenced to an additional year in prison, her lawyer said on the charge of publishing. “Anti-system propaganda” to join protests in front of the Iranian embassy in London in 2009.
That came after she was served five years in prison in the Islamic Republic after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government, an accusation that she, her supporters and rights groups have denied.
While working at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charity, she was detained at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she returned home to England after visiting family.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe told The Associated Press he was unaware of any exchange in the works.
“We didn’t hear anything,” he said. “Of course, we probably wouldn’t. But my instinct is not convinced in the present. “
On Sunday, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabab told the BBC he believed Iran was “illegally” arrested by “Sagari-Rutcliffe”.
“I think she was treated in the most abusive and tortured way,” Raab said. “I think it was tortured by the way she was treated and there was a very clear and clear obligation that Iranians would have. Immediate and unconditional release of her and all those detained. “
The state TV announcement comes amid a broader power struggle between a tough leader and the moderate government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The conflict escalated as Iran approached the June 18 presidential election.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who pushed forward the 2015 nuclear deal under Rouhani, has seen himself involved in a scandal over the outspoken comments he made in the leaked memo. Float as a possible candidate in the election, which now seems improbable because even the Supreme Leader of Iran has evidently criticized him..
Tehran is currently in talks with both world powers and the United States to return to a nuclear deal, which it sees to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. However, Iran did not hold direct talks with the United States during the negotiations.
As negotiations continued, Iranian diplomats there offered encouraging comments, while state TV cited anonymous sources with the highest positions at odds with them. It even saw Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi lead the talks, offering a reprimand on Twitter last week to Iran’s state television’s Press TV.
“I don’t know who Press TV’s” source “in Vienna is, but he / he certainly hasn’t been told,” Araghchi wrote.