Middle East

Iran ready for more prisoner swaps with US, not negotiations

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran is ready for more prisoner swaps with the United States, the Cabinet spokesman said Monday even as he reiterated the Iranian leadership’s stance that there will be no other negotiations between Tehran and Washington.

The remarks by the spokesperson, Ali Rabiei, were the first after a prisoner exchange over the weekend saw Iran free a Chinese-American scholar from Princeton who had been held for three years on widely criticized espionage charges.

The scholar, Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, was freed in exchange for Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani who had faced a federal trial in Georgia over charges he violated sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran.

“We are ready to cooperate to return all Iranians unlawfully imprisoned in the U.S.,” Rabiei told reporters at a briefing in Tehran. He said however that there will be no other negotiations with the U.S. beside this issue.

Rabiei said any further negotiations would be possible through the so-called 5+1 framework — a reference to the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany — under the condition that the U.S. first lift sanctions on Iran.

Saturday’s exchange was negotiated indirectly and took place in Switzerland, which looks after U.S. interests in Iran as Tehran and Washington have no diplomatic ties. The swap raised hopes of other similar actions and was seen as a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions. But it was unclear if it would have any effect on Iranian-U.S. relations.

Crushing U.S. sanctions on Iran blocking it from selling crude oil abroad remain in place, part of President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign imposed following his unilateral withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year. Those sanctions in part fueled the anger seen in nationwide protests last month that Iranian security forces violently put down.

Amnesty International says that over 200 people were killed in the crackdown though Iran has offered no death toll or any other figures related to the unrest.

There are other Western detainees from the U.S. and elsewhere who remain held in Iran and who could be used as bargaining chips for future negotiations.

Others held in Iran include U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who is serving a 10-year espionage sentence, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian with U.S. and British citizenship also initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Also in Iran are 83-year-old Baquer Namazi and his son, Siamak Namazi, dual Iranian-American nationals facing 10-year sentences after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power. Baquer Namazi now is on a prison furlough. However, the Namazis say he remains unable to leave Iran.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.

Reporting by Nasser Karimi

Image: n this photo released on twitter account of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif , Zarif, left, speaks with Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani onboard a plane while leaving Zurich, Switzerland for Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019 (Javad Zarif twitter account via AP)

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