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Iran says ready to proceed with prisoner swap deal with US, UK

Iran has rejected the United States’ denial of an agreement on a humanitarian prisoner exchange, expressing Tehran’s preparedness to immediately proceed with the deal already agreed with Washington and London.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh in a tweet on Sunday denounced as "outrageous" the US denial of the fact that "there is an agreed deal on the matter of the detainees" and "even on how to announce it.”

“Humanitarian swap was agreed with US & UK in Vienna-separate from JCPOA- on release of 10 prisoners on all sides. Iran is ready to proceed TODAY.”

In a pair of tweets on Saturday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi also said the US and Britain are holding a prisoner swap “hostage to political aims” and urged them to “stop linking a humanitarian exchange — ready to be implemented — with the JCPOA,” using an acronym for the official name of the 2015 Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He also held out hope of a quick release of ten prisoners on all sides if the US and the UK “fulfill their part of deal.”

Referring to the talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the JCPOA, Araqchi said they “must thus obviously await our new administration. This is what every democracy demands.”

However, US State Department spokesman Ned Price denied there was already an agreement on a swap, saying, “We see just another cruel effort to raise the hopes of their families … There is no agreed deal yet.”

“These comments are an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current impasse on a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA,” he alleged.

Price then acknowledged that "we had been engaged in indirect talks on the detainees in the context of the Vienna process, and the delay in restarting that process is not helping”.

“While it would be more effective to make progress if we were meeting in Vienna, we are also prepared to continue with talks on detainees during this period,” he said. 

Observers believe the US is seeking to tie the release of Iranian assets illegally frozen under its draconian sanctions to the issue of American prisoners in Iran or open a channel for negotiations with Tehran on issues which the Islamic Republic has declared as absolutely non-negotiable. 

Since April, envoys from Iran and the P4+1 group of countries — Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany — have been attending the talks in Vienna. A US delegation is also in the Austrian capital, but it is not attending the discussions because the United States is not a party to the nuclear accord.

The US, under former President Donald Trump, left the deal in May 2018 and re-imposed the anti-Iran sanctions that the JCPOA had lifted. It also placed additional sanctions on Iran under other pretexts not related to the nuclear case as part of the “maximum pressure” campaign.

Following a year of strategic patience, Iran resorted to its legal rights stipulated in Article 26 of the JCPOA, which grants a party the right to suspend its contractual commitments in case of non-compliance by other signatories, and let go of some of the restrictions imposed on its nuclear energy program.

Now, the new US administration led by President Joe Biden says it wants to compensate for Trump’s mistake and rejoin the deal, but it is showing an overriding propensity for maintaining some of the sanctions as a tool of pressure.

Tehran insists that all sanctions should first be removed in a verifiable manner before the Islamic Republic reverses its remedial measures.

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