After US denied deal, Iran says prisoner swap talks ongoing

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s government spokesman said Tuesday that talks with the United States about a prisoner exchange are still ongoing, two months after Washington denied an Iranian report that deals had been struck.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei as saying the swap negotiations are based on humanitarian interests.

“These talks are ongoing and if any acceptable result is achieved, it will be announced,” he said, without elaborating.

Rabiei added that Iran has many times said it is ready to free all prisoners, in return for the release of all Iranian prisoners in custody in the U.S. He added that President joe Biden has focused on the case since taking office.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that “indirect but active” talks with Iran over prisoners have been going on for some time — and pre-date the Biden administration.

“It is indirect but active discussions taking place to this end: seeing the release of the Americans who have been unjustly detained, deprived of their freedom for far too long now,” he told reporters in Washington.

In early May, a person familiar with the discussions said the U.S. and Iran are in active talks over the release of prisoners but denied a report by Iranian state-run television that deals had been struck.

Prisoner swaps between the U.S. and Iran are not uncommon and both countries in recent years have routinely sought the release of detainees. But any movement between them is particularly sensitive as the Biden administration looks to restart nuclear talks. A 2015 atomic accord between the nations included prisoner exchanges.

Iran occasionally makes similar statements without any verifiable outcome. Talks in Vienna between Iran and world powers on how to get Tehran and Washington back into the nuclear deal, remain stalled, after six rounds.

Tehran insists the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed under former President Donald Trump, including those not related to its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Washington has said Iran needs to comply with all restrictions. Trump pulled Iran unilaterally out of the deal in 2018, saying it needed to be renegotiated.

Washington has not been at the table for the Vienna talks, but an American delegation is in the Austrian capital and representatives of the other powers have been shuttling between the American and the Iranian delegation.

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