Iran blames US for delay in prisoner swap deal

It remains unclear whether an agreement can be finalised as Tehran maintains Washington is acting in bad faith.

Family handout picture of Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi with his father Baquer Namazi
Iranian-American Siamak Namazi (R) in an undated photo with his father Baquer Namazi [File: Handout via Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Iran has blamed the United States for failing to reach an agreement over a prisoner swap deal amid reports that progress had been made after a lull of several months.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani on Monday told journalists that a deal was on the verge of being clinched through intermediaries at an unannounced time, “but then the US showed bad faith”.

Iran and the US have been relaying messages since 2021 over prisoners being held on charges of espionage and circumventing sanctions.

Both sides were on track to reach an agreement as part of talks to restore Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal. However, since those discussions have been deadlocked for months, there were reports that the prisoner exchange could take place separately.

Last week, US broadcaster NBC News reported that Washington and Tehran were in indirect negotiations to secure a possible prisoner exchange, with Qatar and the United Kingdom acting as intermediaries.

The discussions “have made progress”, the report said, but it remained unclear whether an agreement could be reached soon.

Such a deal would see Tehran free US detainees in its custody and Washington would allow the release of billions of dollars of Iranian funds frozen by South Korea under US sanctions, with the money limited to buying food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.

Kanani said the US views the prisoner exchange “as a tool in adjusting the behaviour of the Islamic Republic of Iran” in comments to state-linked Mehr news last week.

On Tuesday, he told the state-run IRNA agency that Oman has made “special efforts” towards facilitating an exchange, something Tehran welcomes. He has also welcomed Qatar’s mediation role as “positive”.

Washington appeared to reject the Iranian accusation of “bad faith” conduct without sharing details about the talks.

“I will not go into the details of any diplomatic efforts under way as you can imagine such discussions are sensitive and highly consequential for the US nationals who have been wrongfully detained,” a US State Department spokesperson told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

“Iran unjustly detains citizens of the US and other countries around the world as an inexcusable tactic to gain political leverage, so for them to claim that the United States has somehow shown ‘bad faith’ in pursuing the release of our citizens is beyond the pale.”

The spokesperson added that the US administration is “working tirelessly” to bring home American citizens detained in Iran, including Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz.

Last month, Namazi, whose father Baquer was released for medical reasons last October and left Iran on a Royal Air Force of Oman jet, wrote a letter to US President Joe Biden from prison and went on a seven-day hunger strike to call for his release.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said an agreement outlined in March has been updated in the past few weeks in an interview to US National Public Radio earlier this month.

“We’re ready to exchange our prisoners, but there are technical steps that need to be taken by the Americans. We are awaiting the technical steps to be taken,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera