Intel: Trump’s Iran policy coordinator previews additional prisoner talks

al-monitor Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran and senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arrives to the UN Plaza as politicians and ambassadors gather to brief the Security Council on a Middle East peace plan in New York, US, Feb. 6, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Yana Paskova.
Bryant Harris

Bryant Harris

@brykharris_ALM

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Iran-US tensions

Jun 9, 2020

President Donald Trump’s Iran policy coordinator hinted today at ongoing negotiations with Tehran to secure the release of additional American prisoners following the release of Navy veteran Michael White last week.

“I’ve been negotiating with the Iranians for the last few months through the Swiss,” said Brian Hook, Trump’s special envoy for Iran, during a virtual interview with the conservative Heritage Foundation. “I’m working on getting the Namazis, Morad Tahbaz and the remains of Bob Levinson back to the United States, so that’s sort of the next focus.”

Why it matters:  Both the United States and Iran deny that White’s release was the result of a prisoner swap, even though Tehran repatriated the Navy veteran following Washington’s return of Iranian prisoners. As White returned home, Iran announced that the United States would free Majid Taheri, a Florida-based Iranian-American doctor convicted of sanctions violations. Fromer New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who helped facilitate the negotiations, confirmed to Al-Monitor last week that the Iranians had predicated White’s release on Taheri’s return. Also last week, the United States returned Sirous Asgari, a scientist acquitted of sanctions violations charges last year, to Iran.

The reluctance of both sides to call it a prisoner swap stands in contrast to the exchange that took place last year. At the time, neither Washington nor Tehran shied away from the term to describe the release of American scholar Xiyue Wang and Iranian stem cell researcher Masould Soleimani.

Hook touted that he was able to win the release of White and Wang while implementing a maximum pressure campaign on Iran “with no pallets of cash, no sanctions relief and no change in policy.”

What’s next:  Hook continues to negotiate through the Swiss on the return of three other Americans held by Iran. They are businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer Namazi, who was released from prison as part of a COVID-19 medical furlough, as well as Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian environmentalist who holds US and British citizenship. Additionally, the family of Robert Levinson, a former CIA contractor who disappeared on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007, confirmed his death in March. His family wants his remains returned to the United States.

Know more:  Elizabeth Hagedorn has the inside story on the US-Iran negotiations to secure White’s release, including the back channel role that Richardson played.

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