Iran says prisoner swap deal is close but US disputes claim

Iran’s overseas minister has mentioned Tehran is within the remaining levels of negotiating a prisoner swap with the US, claiming progress on a extremely delicate and vital deal that was instantly disputed by Washington.

Hossein Amirabdollahian informed state tv on Sunday that the 2 nations had been on the cusp of exchanging prisoners regardless of tensions rising in latest months over nuclear points and ties with Russia.

“We’ve reached an settlement in latest days, and if every little thing goes nicely on the American aspect, I believe we are going to witness a prisoner swap within the short-term,” he mentioned. “So far as we’re involved every little thing is prepared.”

However persevering with diplomatic challenges had been underlined when the White Home dismissed the suggestion of an imminent deal. A spokesperson for the US Nationwide Safety Council mentioned Iranian statements concerning a deal had been “one other particularly merciless lie that solely provides to the struggling of [the prisoners’] households”.

“We’re working relentlessly to safe the discharge of the three wrongfully detained People in Iran,” the spokesperson mentioned. “We won’t cease till they’re reunited with their family members.”

The Islamic Republic, which holds at the very least three Iranian-American twin nationals in its prisons, has lengthy mentioned it’s prepared for a prisoner swap so long as any deal releases Iranian funds held in South Korea.

Greater than $7bn of Iran’s oil income has been frozen in two South Korean banks due to American sanctions imposed after former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers.

A senior western diplomat in Tehran mentioned the potential for a prisoner swap had new “momentum”.

One other particular person briefed on the discussions mentioned no remaining deal had been reached however progress had been made. Discussions had been nonetheless being held on how the funds could be launched, the particular person added.

President Joe Biden may face a backlash domestically and from Center East allies, notably Israel, if his administration is seen to authorise billions of {dollars} being transferred to the regime.

One possibility could be for the funds to be held in an account by Qatar to make sure their use for non-sanctioned items for Iran, resembling drugs and meals, the particular person briefed on the talks mentioned. It’s unclear whether or not the discharge of any Iranian prisoners within the US was amongst Tehran’s calls for.

Negotiations over a doable prisoner swap had been held in September on the time of the UN Basic Meeting assembly in New York. Qatar, which has good relations with each Washington and Tehran, helped facilitate the talks, diplomats say.

The next month, Tehran briefly launched Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman, and lifted the journey ban on his 85-year-old father, Baquer. However the diplomatic efforts had been scuppered because the regime cracked down on nationwide protests and it was accused of promoting armed drones to Moscow, which Russian forces have used of their struggle in Ukraine.

Iranian analysts mentioned disappointment was felt within the regime, which is underneath mounting social and financial stress, that the discharge of Baquer Namazi didn’t result in frozen funds being launched.

Any prisoner swap would come in opposition to the backdrop of mounting tensions between the Islamic republic and US and European powers.

Iran is underneath lots of of US sanctions, which have minimize Tehran off from the worldwide monetary system and frozen billions of {dollars} in oil income. Western states, in the meantime, have been infuriated by Iran’s crackdown on the protests final yr and its determination to promote drones to Moscow.

Additionally they blamed Iran for stymieing efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran rejected an EU draft settlement to avoid wasting the accord in September that every one different signatories had endorsed. Analysts mentioned a profitable prisoner swap may assist lay the foundations for talks to restart.

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