WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and Iran are in active talks over the release of prisoners, a person familiar with the discussions said Sunday as Washington 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 the two countries is particularly sensitive as the Biden administration looks to restart nuclear talks. A 2015 atomic accord between the nations included prisoner exchanges.
The issue burst into public view with a report in Iran of a deal for the Islamic Republic to release U.S. and British prisoners in exchange for Tehran receiving billions of dollars. U.S. officials immediately denied the report, though a person with knowledge of the discussions who was not authorized to discuss them publicly said talks are active, with messages passed between intermediaries.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the report represented a move by the hard-liners running the Iranian broadcaster to disrupt negotiations with the West amid talks in Vienna on Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal.
Even after an initial American denial, an anchorwoman on Iranian state TV still repeated the announcement.
“Some sources say four Iranian prisoners are to be released and $7 billion are to be received by Iran in exchange for releasing four American spies,” the anchorwoman said. She described the claimed deal as coming due to congressional pressure on President Joe Biden and “his urgent need to show progress made in the Iran case.”
But Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, later denied the report of the prisoner swap, saying that it’s “not confirmed,” according to the Telegram channel of state-run IRNA news agency.
“Iran has always emphasized the comprehensive exchange of prisoners between the two countries,” he said, without elaborating.
State TV did not identify the Iranians that Tehran sought to be freed.
State Department spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iranian state TV report.