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Washington denies Iranian state media report that prisoner swap was agreed

By Parisa Hafezi and Maher Chmaytelli, Reuters

The United States on Sunday denied a report by Iranian state television that sworn enemies had reached a prisoner swap deal in exchange for the release of $7 billion in Iranian oil funds frozen under US sanctions in other countries.

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

The US government has denied that a deal has been reached. Iran’s envoy to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said the report could not be confirmed, adding that Tehran had always called for a full prisoner swap with Washington.

State television, citing an unnamed 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 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

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 blocked by 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.

“The release of Nazanin Zaghari in return for the UK paying its £400 million debt to Iran has also been finalized. The source also said the Biden administration agreed to pay Iran $7 billion,” he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “Reports that a prisoner exchange deal has been struck are not true.

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.”

American officials regularly raise the issue of Americans detained with Iran, Klain said.

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 Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that no deal was reached with Iran in Vienna.

“There’s still a long way to go to close the remaining gaps,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “And those loopholes are about the sanctions that the United States and other countries will lift. They wonder what nuclear restrictions Iran will accept in its program to ensure that they can never get a nuclear weapon.

Regarding the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Times Radio earlier: “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 has 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. .