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UPDATE 5 – Iran says it agrees to prisoner swap with US, Washington denies claim

(Adds quotes from source briefed on conversations)

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI, March 12 (Reuters) – Iran and the United States have reached an agreement to exchange prisoners, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state television on Sunday, but Washington denied it as a “false” claim by Tehran.

“Regarding the issue of prisoner exchange between Iran and the US, we have reached an agreement in recent days and if all goes well on the US side, I think we will soon witness a prisoner exchange,” Amirabdollahian said. .

“Everything is ready from our side, while the US is currently doing the final technical coordination.”

A White House official denied Amirabdollahian’s statement about the prisoner exchange, but added that the United States is committed to the release of Americans held in Iran.

“Claims by Iranian officials that we have reached an agreement to release US citizens wrongfully detained by Iran are false,” a White House National Security Council spokesman said.

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A source familiar with the talks said the prisoner exchange is “closer than ever,” but one of the remaining sticking points is related to $7 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds under US sanctions in South Korea.

“The logistics of how these funds will be exchanged and how they will be monitored have not been resolved,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.

The source added that Qatar and Switzerland are involved in the prisoner exchange talks. Iranian sources told Reuters that two regional countries were involved in the indirect talks between Tehran and Washington.

One of the many Americans detained in Iran is Siamak Namazi, a businessman with dual US-Iranian citizenship, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 for spying and collaborating with the US government.

Emad Sharghi, an Iranian-American businessman who was first arrested in 2018 while working for a technology investment firm, is also imprisoned in Iran, as is Iranian-American environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship.

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For years, Tehran has sought the release of more than a dozen Iranians in the United States, including seven Iranian-American dual nationals, two Iranians with permanent U.S. residency, and four Iranian citizens without legal status in the United States. The Islamic Republic, which detains dozens of Iranian dual nationals and foreigners, has been accused by rights activists of arresting them in an attempt to make concessions to other countries. Iran has rejected the charges.

Some Iranian media reported last week that Iran had entered into a prisoner exchange deal in exchange for the release of the $7 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds.

In 2018, then-US President Donald Trump finalized a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions that crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy.

The deal had imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. In response to Washington’s sanctions, Tehran has gradually broken the pact’s restrictions on its nuclear program.

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Indirect talks between Tehran and the administration of US President Joe Biden about reviving the agreement have stalled since September. The deal imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. (Additional reporting by Elwely Elwelly in Dubai, Moira Warburton in Washington, and Andrew Mills in the Gulf Bureau; Written by Parisa Hafezi; Edited by Hugh Lawson, William Maclean, and Bill Berkrot)

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