Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani

Iran Not Seeking Interim Deal With US, Negotiates For Prisoner-Swap

Monday, 06/12/2023

Iran has rejected speculation about an interim deal with the US, saying indirect talks via Oman took place to kickstart negotiations to revive the original 2015 accord.

Speaking during his weekly press conference on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said: “We confirm no such thing as negotiations for an interim agreement or new arrangements to replace the nuclear deal.”

Despite the fact that Tehran’s extraneous demands collapsed the Vienna talks, Kanaani claimed that “Iran’s government has never left the negotiation table and has shown its readiness to conduct serious and substantive negotiations in order to reach a conclusion” on reviving the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

His remarks came only a day after Iran’s ruler Ali Khamenei said reaching a deal would be acceptable if the country’s nuclear infrastructure remains intact. Echoing Khamenei’s remarks, Kanaani reiterated that Iran will continue to rely primarily on trying to neutralize sanctions as it does not trust the West, and at the same time, pursue negotiations to have them removed altogether.

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear pact in 2018, and imposed tighter sanctions on Iran’s energy exports but Tehran has since ramped up nuclear enrichment.

After much speculation, Kanaani also confirmed reports about talks between Iran and the US through Oman in the past few weeks, claiming the Muscat talks were not secret, but an opportunity to defend Iran's national interests.

“We welcomed the mediation proposal put forward by senior Omani officials several weeks ago, and exchanged messages with the opposite side [US], with the aim of activating the ‘sanctions removal’ talks,” he said, using the Islamic Republic’s jargon for Vienna talks.

His claim was also repeated by Mohammad Marandi, a de facto spokesman for the regime who said in an interview with Qatar-based TV channel Al Araby that there have been no secret negotiations between Tehran and Washington.

Mohammad Marandi, a regime insider and an advisor to Iran’s negotiating team

Offering an insight into details of the secret discussions, Marandi, a US citizen close to Tehran's leadership, indicated there are more than nuclear issues on the table. “There is no direct negotiation between Iran and the United States but indirect negotiations are held by sending messages via third parties, and all of the messages are related to the issue of prisoners and assets that the United States has seized," he said.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman also revealed in his presser on Monday that Tehran and Washington are close to a prisoner-swap agreement.

He said that although the Islamic Republic is engaging with the US through intermediaries about prisoner swaps, the two could be “very close” to an agreement. “We hope to see the exchange of prisoners because we made all the necessary efforts,” he added. 

On Friday, Axios revealed details of the talks between American and Iranian officials in Muscat last month with Omani mediators shuttling between their separate rooms to deliver messages.

According to the Axios report, the “proximity talks,” which have not been previously reported, represent the first known indirect engagement between Tehran and Washington in this way in several months. White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri-Kani were among the officials who traveled to Oman secretly for talks.

The report came after the London-based news outlet Middle East Eye claimed Iran and the United States “are nearing a temporary deal that would swap some sanctions relief for reducing Iranian uranium enrichment activities.”

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