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Biden Administration Rejects Partial Deal With Iran On Prisoner Swap

The administration of President Joe Biden insists that all dual Iranian-Americans currently held in Iran should be released, Robert Malley, the United States Special Envoy for Iran, said this week.

Speaking Tuesday to former prisoners and families of foreigners jailed in Iran in an online discussion organized by Hostage Aid Worldwide, Malley said the Biden administration did not want to repeat the mistake of a "partial agreement" over prisoners made in 2016.

“I worked on this issue in the Obama administration when we secured the release of a number of our unjustly detained citizens, but not all,” Malley said about the January 2016 agreement, which involved releasing five Americans in exchange for seven Iranians convicted or charged by US courts.

Hostage Aid Worldwide is a US-based non-profit organization devoted to helping families of American detainees abroad, researching how hostage-taking networks operate, and lobbying governments to sanction individuals allegedly involved in hostage-taking. Activist Masih Alinejad, recently appointed to the Hostage Aid board, told the on-line discussion that all US detainees and all “innocent political prisoners” should be released before “any nuclear or commercial deal” was agreed with Tehran.

Closure Of Levinson Case

Malley did not say how many Americans he believed were detained in Iran, or how many Iranians are held in the US. He referred to “closure” in the case of Robert Levison, the CIA contractor who disappeared in Kish Island, Iran, in 2007, and is believed by his family to be dead.

Among those held in Iran, the most publicized is Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, who was arrested visiting Iran in 2015: he was not included in the 2016 swap and remains in jail in Iran. Namazi's elderly father, Bagher Namazi, who was also arrested when he traveled to Iran in February 2015 and sentenced to ten years in prison for "collusion with an enemy state," has been released from jail on health grounds but not allowed to leave Iran.

At least three other US citizens, businessman Emad Sharghi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, and Karen Vafadari currently serve prison sentences after espionage convictions. Tehran demands the release of Iranians detained in the West on various charges, including breaking sanctions or ‘terrorism’ offenses, and has accused the US of not "showing resolve" in agreeing a prisoner exchange.

Everything is Indirect

Malley told the online discussion that in talking to Iran over a prisoner exchange “everything we’ve done is indirect…on every occasion…notably in Vienna…in parallel to the nuclear talks.” 

The US is not directly involved in talks in Vienna to revive the JCPOA, Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, as President Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 before imposing draconian sanctions on Iran. Biden has continued Trump’s “maximum pressure” while negotiating indirectly over a US return to the JCPOA and it is unclear how far detained Americans fit into his negotiation strategy. Malley said the release of American detainees was a “priority for all our team.”

Dual citizens and foreign nationals held in Iran and their supporters allege they have been taken hostage to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations with other countries. Iran denies this. 

In December 2020 a group of foreign nationals and dual citizens formerly been held by Iran − who said they were victims of hostage-taking by Iran -- including US Xiyue Wang, British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert, American-Iranian Jason Rezaian, Iranian-Canadian web designer Saeed Malekpour, and Lebanese national Nizar Zakka − published a letter to world leaders urging pressure on Iran to free Iranian-Swedish doctor, Ahmad-Reza Djalali (Jalali), 49, who was in imminent danger of execution.

In the latest instance of a prisoner swap on November 25 2020 Iran swapped Kylie Moore-Gilbert with three Iranians jailed in Thailand for a planned 2012 bombing attack against the Israeli ambassador.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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