| 19 April 2024, Friday |

Iran says agreement on exchange of prisoners is ready, throws ball in US court

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani has said that the prisoner exchange deal is now in Washington’s court, stressing that it was waiting for the US to solve some technical issues.


Iranian sources reported that the discussions of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri-Kani, focused on three main issues: the nuclear file, the prisoner exchange, and the release of frozen Iranian assets.


Kanaani told a weekly press conference on Monday that “a written agreement regarding the exchange of prisoners was signed through an intermediary” in March 2022.


He tried to clarify recent statements of the Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, after he told state television on Sunday that they reached an agreement to exchange prisoners.


“Regarding the issue of prisoner swaps between Iran and the US, we have reached an agreement recently. If everything goes well on the US side, I think we will witness a prisoner exchange in a short period,” Amirabdollahian said.


“On our part, everything is ready, while the US is currently working on the final technical coordination.”


US officials were quick to deny Amirabdollahian’s statement. A White House National Security Council spokesman said: “Claims by Iranian officials that we have reached a deal for the release of the US citizens wrongfully held by Iran are false.”


US State Department spokesman Ned Price described the Iranian foreign minister’s statements as a lie: “We often deal with the lies that emanate from senior regime officials in Tehran; that’s nothing new. But we did call this one especially cruel because there are lives, families, and loved ones that hang in the balance.”


“What I can tell you is that we are working relentlessly to secure the release of these three Americans. We have made this – we made this an early priority of this administration.”


Reuters quoted a source briefed on the talks as saying that the prisoner exchange is “closer than it has ever been,” but one of the remaining sticking points is linked to $7 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds under US sanctions in South Korea.

“The logistics of how these funds will be exchanged and how oversight will be provided are unresolved,” said the source, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.


The source added that Qatar and Switzerland had been involved in the prisoner exchange talks.


Iranian sources also told Reuters that two regional countries were involved in the indirect talks between Tehran and Washington.


Meanwhile, Iranian media outlets addressed Bagheri-Kani’s absence from two events in the past week, including the talks with the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, and the Iranian-Saudi negotiations in Beijing, which announced the resumption of relations between the two countries.


On Friday, government sources said that Bagheri-Kani was conducting negotiations on the nuclear deal abroad.


Qods newspaper, close to the Supreme Leader’s office, quoted an informed source as saying that Bagheri-Kani’s talks focused on three priorities.


According to the official, the main issues focused on the negotiations to revive the nuclear agreement, the prisoner exchange deal, and the problem facing Tehran in transferring frozen assets in light of the sanctions imposed on its financial system.


The source said that the US officials aimed to convince Tehran through Muscat. Still, Iranian officials were cautiously negotiating, adding that Washington must know that the ball is in its court.


He asserted that Tehran would not deal with promises, and the other side must take practical and positive steps in response to Iran’s good intentions to serve the interests of its people.


The official said the West and US must show a will to remove obstacles and release Iranian funds.


One of several US citizens held in Iran is Siamak Namazi, a businessman with dual US-Iranian citizenship, who was sentenced in 2016 to ten years in prison for spying and cooperating with the US government.


In an unprecedented interview with CNN from his cell in Evin prison in Tehran, Namazi pleaded to US President Joe Biden to put the “liberty of innocent Americans above politics” and ramp up efforts to secure his release.


Emad Sharghi, an Iranian American businessman first arrested in 2018 when working for a tech investment company, is also jailed in Iran, as is Iranian American environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship.


For years, Tehran has sought the release of more than a dozen Iranians in the United States, including seven Iranian American dual nationals, two Iranians with permanent US residency, and four Iranian citizens with no legal status in the United States.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat