Iran’s top diplomat said on Sunday that “everything is ready” to carry out a stalled prisoner exchange with the United States, which Washington promptly denied as a “cruel lie”.
At least three US citizens are being held in the country’s prisons, according to Iran’s judiciary and the US State Department.
“In recent days, we have reached an agreement on the exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told state broadcaster IRINN.
The deal was “indirectly signed and approved” last year, he added in a televised interview, saying “the US side is making its final technical arrangements” ahead of implementation.
“In our opinion, everything is ready,” said the minister.
“If all goes well on the American side, I believe we will soon witness the prisoner exchange.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price called Amir-Abdollahian’s claim that a deal had been reached “another particularly vicious lie that only adds to the suffering of their families (of the prisoners”) .
“We are working relentlessly to secure the release of the three Americans wrongfully detained in Iran,” Price added.
In October, Iranian media said a prisoner swap agreed between Tehran and Washington included the thawing of Iranian funds abroad, but Amir-Abdollahian made no mention of that on Sunday.
– Espionage charges –
The foreign minister’s comments came two days after a CNN interview with Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison since 2015.
Namazi, 51, was banned from leaving the country during a visit and was later sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of collaborating with a foreign government.
He denies the allegations, which US officials have called baseless.
His father Mohammad Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF official, was arrested in February 2016 when he went to Iran to try to free his son.
They were both sentenced to 10 years in October 2016 on espionage charges. Baquer, who has been under house arrest since 2018, received a reduced sentence in 2020 and was finally allowed to leave the country for medical treatment in October.
At least 16 Western passport holders, most of them with dual citizenship — which Iran generally does not recognize — are being held in the country.
Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American who also holds British nationality, was arrested along with other environmental activists in January 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conspiracy with America”.
Iranian-American venture capitalist Emad Sharqi was sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, Iranian media reported in 2021, saying he was captured as he tried to flee the country.
Karan Vafadari, an Iranian-American member of the Zoroastrian minority religion, was arrested in June 2016 on espionage charges and released on bail in July 2018. He still cannot leave Iran.
Iran’s judiciary reported in August that “dozens” of Iranian nationals had been detained in the United States, including Reza Sarhangpour and Kambiz Attar Kashani, accused of violating US sanctions against Tehran.
The US State Department said on Sunday that special envoy for hostage-taking Roger Carstens would travel to Qatar on Monday for the Global Security Forum taking place in Doha.
Carstens will “engage with government representatives and stakeholders on matters related to the resolution of wrongful detention and hostage-taking worldwide,” the department said in a statement.