Well-Placed Website Says Iran Has Shelved Prisoner-Swap Plan
Iran has shelved a plan to exchange four American prisoners with four Iranians jailed in the United States and receive $7 billion dollars of its blocked funds, Nour News, a website affiliated with the Supreme National Security Council reported Tuesday.
On the same day Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) was certified as Iran’s new president ahead of Thursday’s inauguration, the website quoted an unnamed source claiming Washington had drawn back from an initial understanding under which Tehran would be ‘allowed’ access to $7 billion frozen abroad in tandem with a prisoner exchange.
The report said that discussions over the exchange had been separate from Vienna talks, which began in April, over reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). But the two tracks had been linked by the Biden administration, the report claimed, which then refused to ‘free’ the Iranian funds.
Iran immediate priority is to gain access to oil revenues frozen abroad – thought to exceed $20 billion – by banks fearful of punitive action by the US under secondary sanctions levied by President Trump after leaving the JCPOA in 2018.
Tehran wanted to exchange Bagher and Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi − four US citizens jailed in Iran − for four Iranians jailed in the US over sanctions violations.
The source told Nour News that Iran’s motivation was humanitarian, but added that Tehran had now changed its mind over any idea of exchanging all prisoners, as the US wants, and had insisted on receiving the $7 billion. “Iran has no more motivation to continue the process of talks over prisoners”, the source said.
Nour News reported a similar outcome in talks it said had been underway with Britain over freeing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, currently under house arrest in Iran, in return for London paying £400 million ($556 million) owed for an arms delivery Britain failed to make in 1979.
On July 17, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi had tweeted that the United States and Britain needed to stop linking any prisoner exchange with the Vienna nuclear talks. "TEN PRISONERS on all sides may be released TOMORROW if US&UK fulfill their part of deal," he wrote.
Days earlier, on July 13 President Hassan Rouhani’s spokesman Ali Rabiei had told the media that prisoner exchange talks with the US were in progress, but the US State Department while not denying the talks, rejected Iran’s claims(link is external) that a deal had been reached.
One possible hurdle could have also been Washington’s insistence that issue of prisoners be solved at once, in a full package deal and not piecemeal. This approach would make more sense for the US to prevent Iran from constantly making fresh demands for releasing more prisoners.
Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Iran many times of arresting innocent foreigners or dual nationals as bargaining chips. Some have called it “hostage taking,” evoking Iran’s detaining American diplomats for 444 days during the 1979 Revolution.