The United States has immediately denied a report by the Iranian state broadcaster that agreements had been reached between Tehran and Washington that would allow prisoners to change and Tehran to receive billions of dollars.
An unnamed official quoted by Iranian state TV said earlier on Sunday that an agreement between the US and Tehran involved an exchange of prisoners in exchange for the release of $ 7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
The state television report, citing the unnamed Iranian official, also said British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be released once Britain settled its military equipment debt with Tehran.
A British Foreign Office official downplayed the report.
Iranian state television had quoted the official as saying, “The Americans agreed to pay $ 7 billion and change four Iranians who were actively involved in passing the sanctions to four American spies who have served part of their sentences.” He did not name the Iranians that Tehran was trying to liberate.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iranian state television report.
“Reports that have reached a prisoner exchange agreement are not true,” Price said.
“As we have said, we always raise the case of Americans arrested or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families. “
Biden chief of staff Ron Klain also denied the report on the US and told CBS’s Face the Nation that “unfortunately this report is false. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”
“We’re working very hard to get them released,” Klain said. “We are constantly raising this with Iran and our interlocutors, but so far there is no agreement.”
NEWS: on reports of a prisoner exchange with #Iran @WHCOS Ron Klain explains @jdickerson: “Unfortunately, this report is false. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.” pic.twitter.com/aLIrHlEneg
– Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) May 2, 2021
Tehran has four well-known Americans in prison. They include Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz and Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi.
Iranian state television reports come amid a broader power struggle between hardline supporters and the relatively moderate government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. This conflict has only intensified as Iran approaches the June 18 presidential election.
The station, which has long been controlled by hard lines, has issued reports anonymously contradicting diplomats in Vienna who were trying to negotiate the return of its nuclear deal with world powers.
It was not immediately clear whether Sunday’s report represented another means of interrupting Rouhani officials’ negotiations or sabotaging any possible negotiations with the West on frozen funds and prisoner exchanges.
There is no agreement to release UK nationals
Iranian state television also quoted the official as saying that an agreement had been reached for the UK to pay £ 400 million ($ 553 million) to watch the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
British officials downplayed the report. The Foreign Ministry said the country is still “exploring options to resolve this 40-year-old case and we will not comment further as there are ongoing legal discussions”.
Last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to one additional year in prison, said his lawyer, accused of spreading “propaganda against the system” to take part in a protest in front of the Iranian embassy in London in 2009.
This came after she completed a five-year prison sentence in Iran after being convicted of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, a charge she, her followers and rights groups deny.
While working at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charity’s arm of the news agency, she was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 when she was returning home to Britain after visiting her family.
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, told The Associated Press that he knew of no exchange in the works.
“We didn’t hear anything,” he said. “Of course we probably wouldn’t, but my instinct is to be skeptical today.”
Earlier Sunday, UK Secretary of State Dominic Raab told the BBC that he believed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held “illegally” by Iran in a way that amounts to “torture”.
“I think she has been treated in the most abusive and tortuous way,” Raab said.
“I think he is wrong to torture the way he has been treated and there is a very clear and unequivocal obligation for Iranians to release him, as well as all those who are detained as immediate and unconditional leverage. “.
Negotiations in progress
Last week, cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei hinted that there could be an exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States, saying the idea “has always been on the agenda” and that the justice has confirmed its “disposition.”
His remarks followed that of the Foreign Ministry spokesman, who suggested that Tehran hopes to hold a substantial prisoner exchange as part of the ongoing negotiations in Vienna. A similar exchange accompanied the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Tehran is now negotiating with world powers over both him and the United States to return to its 2015 nuclear deal, which saw it limit uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
As negotiations continue, Iranian negotiators have offered encouraging comments, while state television quoted anonymous sources about maximalist positions.
Even Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister at the helm of the talks, offered a reprimand on Twitter last week to Iranian state television group Press TV.
I don’t know who Press TV’s “informed source” is in Vienna, but I’m sure he’s not “informed.”
– Seyed Abbas Araghchi (@araghchi) April 20, 2021
“I don’t know who is the‘ informed source ’of Press TV in Vienna, but I’m sure it’s not‘ informed ’,” Araghchi wrote.