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Washington denies Iranian state media report saying prisoner swap agreed

FILE PHOTO US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday. Reuters

Iranian state television announced on Sunday that Tehran would release four Americans accused of spying in exchange for four Iranians detained in the United States and the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

However, the US government denied that a swap was taking place.

State television, quoting an Iranian official, also said British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be released once Britain repaid a military equipment debt owed to Tehran.

A UK Foreign Office official played down the report.

Iran and world powers are in talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that Washington scrapped three years ago.

Iranian officials told Reuters last month that an interim deal could be a way to buy time for a lasting settlement that involves unfreezing Iranian funds frozen under U.S. sanctions.

“A knowledgeable source says the Biden administration has agreed to release four Iranian prisoners jailed for evading US sanctions in exchange for four American ‘spies’,” Iranian state television said on Sunday.

“Nazanin Zaghari’s release in exchange for the UK paying its £400m debt to Iran has also been finalized. The source also said the Biden administration has agreed to pay $7bn to Iran,” he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price told Reuters: “Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been struck are not true.”

“As we have said, we are always raising the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”

Ron Klain, White House chief of staff, also denied the report. “Unfortunately, this report is false. There is no agreement to release these four Americans,” Klain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Tehran and the powers have been meeting in Vienna since early April to work out what steps to take, regarding US sanctions and Iran’s alleged violations of the 2015 accord, to bring Tehran and Washington back into full compliance with the OK.

Iran says $20 billion of its oil revenue has been frozen in countries including South Korea, Iraq and China under US sanctions since 2018.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, said no deal was reached with Iran in Vienna.

“There is still a good distance to go to close the remaining gaps,” he said. “And those loopholes are about the sanctions that the United States and other countries will lift. They are about the nuclear restrictions that Iran will accept on its program to ensure that they can never get a nuclear weapon.”

ZAGHARI-RATCLIFFE

On the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Times Radio earlier on Sunday: “We recognize that the IMS debt needs to be repaid and we are looking at arrangements to secure it.”

A Foreign Ministry official then played down speculation about his release.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, project manager for the charity Thomson Reuters Foundation, was released from house arrest in March at the end of a sentence for seeking to overthrow the Iranian government.

An Iranian court last month sentenced her to another year in prison, weeks after serving her five-year sentence, a decision Britain called “inhumane”.

She was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.

Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of media company Thomson Reuters and its Reuters news subsidiary, deny all charges against her and say she was only visiting relatives in Iran. .

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