Iran said Monday that nuclear talks are separate from the issue of US citizens jailed in Iran, after the US said they should be freed if a deal is reached.
"I emphasize again that these two issues are separate, but if there is a will on the other side, we can reach agreements on both [groups of prisoners] in the shortest time possible," Saeed Khatibzadeh the foreign ministry spokesman said.
Khatibzadeh, in his Monday briefing for reporters linked the foreigners and dual citizens detained in Iran to Iranians jailed in the United States for violating US sanctions.
The spokesman this could be done if the “US abides by the agreements that it made before.” The spokesman apparently referred to the jailing of Iranians over violating sanctions, including those introduced by presidential order under the ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran begun in 2018, when the US left the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and introduced sanctions incompatible with it.
Khatibzadeh alleged that Iranian citizens in the US were held “in inhumane conditions” on “the false accusation of circumventing [US] sanctions,” whereas US citizens held in Iran had committed crimes and had been lawfully sentenced.
The US and other Western citizens and dual nationals in question have in general been convicted by Revolutionary Courts on security charges after trials that human rights organizations have said do not meet international standards of due process.
Khatibzadeh said Iran had often expressed concerns on humanitarian grounds over Iranians held in the US, and insisted their plight had been Iran's agenda "both directly and indirectly, both before and these [nuclear] talks, and even during them.”
Malley and ‘preconditions’
In an interview with Reuters published Monday, the US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley stressed the importance of the release of four American-Iranians held in Iran but stopped short of saying their freedom was a precondition for Washington re-entering the JCPOA.
"They're separate [agreement in Vienna and the prisoners’ release] and we're pursuing both of them,” Malley said. “But I will say it is very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran.”
His remarks were interpreted both by Reuters and media in Iran as a US “pre-condition” for agreement in Vienna, although Malley’s words appeared less a diplomatic demarche than an effort to convince former US hostage Barry Rosen to end a hunger strike in Vienna aimed at making the prisoners’ release a US precondition, which was attracting media attention.
"So even as we're conducting talks with Iran indirectly on the nuclear file we are conducting, again indirectly, discussions with them to ensure the release of our hostages," Malley told Reuters.
Iranian media took up Reuters’ suggestion that Malley had "moved a step close… to saying that their release was a precondition for a nuclear agreement."
The official news agency IRNA detected "Washington's new obstruction in the course of Vienna talks” with the US apparently seeking “to make the path to reaching a deal in Vienna hard, under various pretexts.” Fars news agency reported Malley's remarks under the headline "Washington Sets Precondition for Returning to JCPOA.”
Rosen, a US diplomat held in the Tehran embassy in 1979-81, was on hunger strike in Vienna last week to demand that no agreement be reached over the Iranian nuclear program until US, British, French, German, Austrian and Swedish prisoners in Iran were released. He was joined by British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori, held in Tehran’s Ervin prison.
"I've spoken to a number of the families of the hostages who are extraordinarily grateful for what Mr Rosen is doing but they also are imploring him to stop his hunger strike, as I am, because the message has been sent," Malley said.