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Iran says ready for prisoner swap with US without preconditions

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (Wolfgang Kumm/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iran is ready for a full prisoner exchange with the United States, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei says, adding that Washington has yet to respond to Iran’s call for a prisoner swap.

“We have announced that we are ready without any preconditions to exchange all prisoners and we are prepared to discuss this issue but the Americans have not responded yet,” Rabiei told the news site Khabaronline on May 10.

“We are worried about the safety and health of Iranians in jail…. We hold America responsible for Iranians’ safety amid the new coronavirus outbreak,” Rabiei added.

“Washington is aware of our readiness and we think there is no need for a third country to mediate between Tehran and Washington for the prisoner exchange,” Rabiei was quoted as saying.

The United States is set to deport Iranian professor Sirous Asgari, who was acquitted of stealing trade secrets, U.S. and Iranian officials told Reuters last week. Asgari was reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Iran is believed to be holding at least four Americans, including Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, his father, Baqer Namazi, and environmentalist and businessman Morad Tahbaz.

Western media reported last week that Tehran and Washington were negotiating a deal that would release U.S. Navy veteran Michael White for an Iranian held in the United States. White, detained in Iran for allegedly insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posting private information online, was released on medical furlough in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran says the U.S. authorities are holding some 20 Iranian nationals in jail.

In a rare act of cooperation, the United States and Iran swapped prisoners in 2019: American graduate student Xiyue Wang, detained on alleged spying charges, and imprisoned Iranian stem-cell researcher Massud Soleimani, accused of sanctions violations.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have heightened since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, especially after he pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Iran in March to release on humanitarian grounds all wrongfully detained Americans held in the country.