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Iran's national flag flies over the skyline of Tehran
Iran has reportedly struck major deals to release prisoners and unfreeze funds with the US and UKImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Salemi

Washington rejects reports of US-Iranian prisoner swap

May 2, 2021

The US has said reports of a prisoner swap with Iran "are not true." Iranian state media reported that Tehran had struck deals with British and American officials to release prisoners and unfreeze funds.


The United States has swiftly denied reports about a prisoner swap agreement with Iran, after Iranian state media and a pro-Iranian Lebanese TV channel reported on the alleged deals.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the reports "are not true."

White House chief of staff Ron Klain, also told US media that "there is no agreement" for a prisoner swap.

Iran's UN envoy later also said the reports were not confirmed.

"The news of the agreement for the release of American prisoners [in Iran] is not confirmed," Majid Takht Ravanchi was quoted as saying by the Young Journalists' Club, which is affiliated with state media.

Meanwhile, British officials downplayed unconfirmed reports about a separate deal that was struck concerning the possible release of British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

It was unclear whether the reports were part of a bid by hard-liners to disrupt ongoing talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

What did the reports say?

The deals were first reported by a pro-Iranian Lebanese TV channel. An Iranian state TV channel later cited an anonymous official who said agreements had been struck with US and British officials.

According to the reports, Iran agreed to release four American prisoners in exchange for as many Iranians held by the US.

The prisoner swap deal with Washington also reportedly involved the unfreezing of $7 billion (€5.8 billion) in Iranian funds.

In a separate unconfirmed deal, the UK agreed to pay 400 million pounds ($553,000; €460,000) for the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The UK Foreign Office said the British government is continuing "to explore options" to resolve the case.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's daughter holds a sign at a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family has urged for her release from prison in IranImage: Ian West/empics/picture alliance

The dual national was sentenced to an additional year in prison last week on charges of spreading "propaganda." Zaghari-Ratcliffe recently finished a five-year prison sentence on separate charges.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told The Associated Press that he wasn't aware of any swap in the works, but that his "instinct is to be skeptical at present."

Iranian leader quiet on alleged deals

The reports emerged at the same time as Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was giving what was described as an "important" speech. 

He did not, however, mention any proposed prisoner swaps.

Khamenei did slam remarks made by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a leaked audio recording, saying they were a "big mistake."

In the recordings, Zarif voiced criticism of slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike at the beginning of 2020.

Zarif has since apologized for the comments, which come less than two months before Iran holds a presidential election. The minister had been seen as a potential candidate in the June 18 vote.

The reported deals with the US and UK come amid ongoing negotiations in Vienna on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. While diplomats said on Saturday that progress has been made, more time is needed to set a future agreement.

rs/sms (AP, Reuters)

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