U.S. & Iran Holding Indirect Prisoner Swap Talks – Report

February 15, 2023

The Biden Administration is holding indirect talks with Iran on a possible prisoner swap, sources told NBC News.

Negotiations have reportedly made progress, but it remains unclear whether a final agreement between the U.S. and Iran can be reached. 

“As we have said, we have ways of communicating with Iran on issues of concern, including on the issue of releasing U.S. citizens wrongfully detained in Iran. Those channels remain open, but we’re not going to detail them,” a State Department spokesperson said.

There are currently three Americans imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges that the United Nations and others say are baseless. Morad  Tahbaz and Emad Shargi have both been imprisoned since 2018.

The third American, Siamak Namazi held a seven-day hunger strike in January to mark seven years since he was left behind in a prisoner swap during the Obama Administration that brought other Americans home from Iran. In 2016, Namazi was charged with “co-operating with a foreign enemy state” and levied a 10-year sentence. 

The family of Tahbaz and Shargi have said they’re encouraged by the Biden Administration’s successful negotiation with Russia in December to free then-imprisoned American WNBA star, Brittney Griner.

Her release occurred despite the U.S. being at odds with Russia over its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, negotiations with Iran to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement have fizzled, especially over Iran’s brutal treatment of protesters following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody three days after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for not properly wearing a religious head covering called a hijab. 

Iran has denied that it has imprisoned Americans and other foreigners on arbitrary charges and says the cases were handled in accordance with its laws.

A prisoner exchange might potentially include the release of some funds to Iran currently blocked by U.S. sanctions. However, that would very likely spark outcry from some Congressional lawmakers, particularly Republicans who already have accused Biden of failing to act tough toward Iran.

The U.S., meanwhile, is not the only Western nation reportedly negotiating a prisoner swap. Last month Belgium’s Foreign Minister and her Iranian counterpart reportedly held talks over the phone to discuss the fate of Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker sentenced to 40 years in prison in Iran. So far, he remains imprisoned.

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