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Iran downplays state media report on US prisoner swap

The US government has also denied that it reached a deal to swap prisoners with Iran.
In this handout image provided by EU Delegation Vienna, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi (R) speaks with other participants at the JCPOA Iran nuclear talks on April 27, 2021, in Vienna, Austria.

Iranian officials say they can’t confirm an Iranian state media report that said the United States and Iran have agreed to swap prisoners, even as the Joe Biden administration forcefully shot down the report as untrue.

Quoting an unnamed Iranian official, state-run TV reported on Sunday that Washington and Tehran had agreed four Iranian-Americans detained in Iran for alleged spying would be traded for four Iranians held in the United States for sanctions violations, as well as the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

But Iran’s United Nations ambassador, Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, later dismissed the report as “not confirmed.”

“Iran has always emphasized the comprehensive exchange of prisoners between the two countries,” he said, according to state-run IRNA news agency.

The Biden administration was quick to deny the rumored exchange. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said "reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true."

"As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran,” Price added. "We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families."

President Joe Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, also pushed back on the report as “untrue,” telling CBS' "Face the Nation” that “there is no agreement to release these four Americans.”

"We're working very hard to get them released," Klain said. "We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time, but so far there's no agreement."

Iran is holding at least four Americans of dual nationality, including father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, businessman Emad Shargi and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz. In February, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States had begun to communicate with the Iranians on the hostage issue.

World powers have been meeting in Vienna to negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, but Tehran and Washington are at odds over which side will act first to resume compliance. Iran’s leaders insist the United States must roll back sanctions imposed by the Donald Trump administration before they reverse their violations of the deal.

"There is still a fair distance to travel to close the remaining gaps," Sullivan told ABC’s "This Week" on Sunday. "And those gaps are over what sanctions the United States and other countries will roll back. They are over what nuclear restrictions Iran will accept on its program to ensure that they can never get a nuclear weapon."

The Iranian TV report also said British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be freed if the United Kingdom first paid decades-old debt owed to Iran. Last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested and detained in Iran in 2016, was sentenced to another year in jail on propaganda charges.

On whether the UK would pay the 400 million pounds, the British Foreign Office said it would "explore options to resolve this 40-year-old case, and we will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing."

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