While Islamic Republic’s foreign minister says Iran and the US have reached a prisoner exchange deal, the Biden administration dismissed the claim as a “cruel lie.”
Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told state TV Sunday that “Regarding the exchange of current prisoners between Iran and the US, we have reached an agreement within the past few days. If everything goes well on the American side, I think we will witness a prisoner exchange in the near future. We see this as an entirely humanitarian case.”
A White House official immediately denied Amir-Abdollahian's statement about the prisoner swap, reiterating that the United States was committed to securing the release of Americans held in Iran. Amir-Abdollahian claimed that a document laying out the exchange had been “indirectly signed and approved” since early March 2022, without saying who would be exchanged in the prisoner swap.
One of several Americans held in Iran is Siamak Namazi, a businessman with dual US-Iranian citizenship, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 on charges of espionage and cooperating with the US government. Emad Sharghi, another Iranian-American businessman, was arrested in 2018 when he was working for a tech investment company. Iranian-American environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship, is a third prisoner.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the AP that the comments are “another especially cruel lie that only adds to the suffering of their families.” “We are working relentlessly to secure the release of the three wrongfully detained Americans in Iran,” Price said. “We will not stop until they are reunited with their loved ones.”
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price
A separate statement from a spokesperson with the White House’s National Security Council also called the remarks “false,” adding, “Unfortunately, Iranian officials will not hesitate to make things up, and the latest cruel claim will cause more heartache for the families of Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz,” naming the three Americans held on trumped-up espionage charges. "Claims by Iranian officials that we have reached a deal for the release of the US citizens wrongfully held by Iran are false," the spokesperson said.
In recent days, Namazi was allowed to conduct an interview with CNN from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison — something that cannot normally happen in the Islamic Republic’s prisons.
Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi
Reuters cited 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 Iranian oil funds frozen under US sanctions in South Korea. "The logistics of how these funds will be exchanged and how oversight will be provided are unresolved," added the source.
The source also said that Qatar and Switzerland have been involved in the prisoner exchange talks.
The Islamic Republic, which is holding dozens of Iranian dual nationals and foreigners, has been accused by human rights organization of hostage diplomacy, trying to extract concessions from other countries. Tehran denies this and insists all foreigners are tried according to legal process. However, it has frequently shown readiness for prisoner exchanges and participated in swaps in the past.
Earlier in the day, Iranian media reported that Habib Chaab – also known as Habib Osaivad – an Iranian-Swedish political activist, founder and former leader of Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, was sentenced to death for "terrorism" and "corruption on earth" by the judiciary. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom later on Sunday condemned the sentence as "inhumane," calling it an "irreversible punishment".
There are also reports that the Islamic Republic is ready for a prisoner swap with Belgium after the constitutional court in the European country upheld an exchange treaty. The Constitutional Court of Belgium rejected a request last week to annul the prisoner exchange treaty with the Islamic Republic signed last year that can lead to the release of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, convicted of terrorism, for Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, held hostage in Iran.
Assadi, 50, a former attaché at the Iranian embassy in Austria, was convicted of plotting to bomb a gathering of the exiled opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) near Paris on June 30, 2018. Iran says Nouri’s detention is driven by “false allegations” made by the MEK.