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Iran-US Prisoner Swap Denied By Both Tehran And Washington

Iran’s foreign ministry Monday said that claims of a prisoner exchange deal being agreed by Iran and the United States “cannot be confirmed.” This followed an earlier denial by the US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

On Sunday, Iran’s state broadcaster had – following a report by the Lebanese Al Mayadeen TV – suggested that Washington and Tehran had agreed to exchange prisoners with the US also agreeing to waive any threat of sanctions on third parties holding around $7 billion of Tehran’s assets ‘frozen’ in fear of punitive US action.

Both Al-Mayadeen and Iran’s state broadcaster are close to Iran’s hardliners and it is not clear if they intended to disrupt negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which many hardliners oppose.

Iran is holding several individuals in what human rights defenders say is akin to taking hostages to use as bargaining chips with the West. There is no clear figure of Iranians held in the US, although Iranian television referred to four involved in the swap negotiations.

In January 2016, the US and Iran exchanged four US nationals held in Iran for seven Iranians, six of whom were dual-nationals, in US prisons on charges related to sanctions, with Republicans attacking the then administration of President Barack Obama both over the agreement and the discrete diplomacy that produced it. Disputing claims from State Department officials, many Republicans linked the prisoner swap to the Iran nuclear deal, agreed the previous year despite their opposition, and its ‘freeing up’ of Iranian resources frozen abroad.

The 2016 swap did not include Niamak Namazi, an energy analyst arrested in Iran in October 2015, who remains in jail in Tehran alongside his father Bagher, who was arrested in February 2016 when he arrived in Iran to visit his son.

Khatibzadeh commented on another well-publicized case, that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager for Reuters Thomson Foundation, currently under house arrest in Tehran after conviction on propaganda charges. The spokesman said that no legal talks were underway over the British-Iranian woman, while British officials also played down a report on Iranian state television that a deal had been reached with the United Kingdom paying £400 million ($552 million), owed to Iran over an unfulfilled 1970s arms deal, in return for her release.

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