DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The United States immediately denied a report on Iranian state television on Sunday that agreements had been reached for the Islamic Republic to release US and British prisoners in exchange for Tehran, which receives billions of dollars.
It was not immediately clear whether the report represented a move by the Iranian broadcaster’s hardliners to disrupt negotiations with the West during the talks in Vienna over Tehran’s ragged nuclear deal.
It was also unknown whether there had been ongoing negotiations with the West over frozen funds and prisoner exchanges, both of which accompanied the 2015 nuclear deal.
Even after an initial American rejection, a presenter on Iranian state television repeated the announcement.
“Some sources say that four Iranian prisoners are to be released and that $ 7 billion will be received from Iran in exchange for the release of four American spies,” the host said. She described the alleged deal as a result of congressional pressure on President Joe Biden and “his urgent need to show the progress made in the Iran case”.
However, Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, later denied the prisoner swap report, saying it was “not confirmed,” according to state news agency IRNA’s telegram channel.
“Iran has always emphasized the extensive exchange of prisoners between the two countries,” he said without going into detail.
State television did not identify the Iranians Tehran wanted to liberate.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iranian state television report.
“Reports that a prisoner swap contract has been made are not true,” Price said. “As I said, we always bring up the cases of Americans who are detained or missing in Iran. We won’t stop until we can reunite them with their families. “
Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, told CBS ‘Face the Nation that “unfortunately this report is not true. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”
“We’re working very hard to get them released,” said Klain. “We keep talking about this with Iran and our interlocutors, but so far there has been no agreement.”
Tehran is holding four well-known Americans in jail: Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, and Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi. Iran has long been accused of holding prisoners with Western ties to later use them as a basis for negotiations.
Despite the American opposition, there have been signs that a prisoner agreement may be in the works based on which Comments from Iranian officials in recent weeks.
Although a formal proposal for an exchange has not yet been presented to Washington officials, let alone signed by the White House, the specificity of the reports from Iran indicated that at least a review of a working-level agreement is underway.
State television also quoted sources saying that an agreement had been reached for the UK to pay £ 400 million (US $ 552 million) for the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
British officials downplayed the report. The Foreign Office said the country continues to examine options to resolve this 40-year-old case and we will not comment further as legal discussions continue.
In addition to the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, Britain and Iran are also negotiating a British debt to Tehran prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to another year in prison, said her lawyer, for accused of “disseminating anti-system propaganda” for participating in a 2009 protest outside the Iranian embassy in London.
It came after she served a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic after being convicted of toppling the Iranian government, an allegation that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
While employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s non-profit branch, she was detained at Tehran Airport in April 2016 when she was returning to the UK after visiting family.
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, told The Associated Press that he was unaware of a trade at the plants.
“We didn’t hear anything,” he said. “Of course we probably wouldn’t, but my instinct is to be skeptical right now.”
On the previous Sunday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had told the BBC that he believed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being “illegally” held by Iran.
“I think she was treated in the most abusive and tortuous way,” said Raab. “I think it boils down to tormenting the way she has been treated, and there is a very clear, unambiguous commitment on the Iranians to immediately and unconditionally release them and anyone who is used as leverage.”
The state television announcement comes amid a major power struggle between hardliners and the relatively moderate government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That conflict only got worse as Iran nears its June 18 presidential election.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who pushed for the 2015 nuclear deal under Rouhani, was embroiled in a scandal for openly commenting on a leaked recording. Zarif’s name was announced as a possible candidate for the election. something that now seems unlikely, given that even the top Iranian leader has apparently criticized him.
Tehran is currently negotiating with the world powers to return the US and US to the nuclear deal, which limited uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. However, Iran did not negotiate directly with the US during the talks.
As the negotiations continue, Iranian diplomats have made encouraging comments there, while state television cited anonymous sources taking maximalist positions that contradict them. Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister who led the talks, last week tweeted a reprimand to the English-speaking arm of Iranian state television, Press TV.
“I don’t know who the” informed source “of Press TV Vienna is, but he / she is certainly not” informed “,” Araghchi wrote.