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Iran Foreign Ministry Insists Prisoner Exchange Offer Is Serious

Freed Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian (C) chats with US Secretary of State John Kerry during the inauguration of the Washington Post Headquarters on January 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, says Iran's offer of prisoner exchange with the United States is "serious and with precedent." Meanwhile he charged that the United States "lacks a proper understanding of the concept of negotiations."

On Wednesday April 24, when Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran was ready to swap prisoners with America, an unnamed U.S. Department of State official had written to a reporter that the Iranian regime can demonstrate its seriousness regarding consular issues, including Iranians who have been indicted or convicted of criminal violation of U.S. sanctions laws, by releasing innocent U.S. persons immediately.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday that the United States' reaction has been a "hurried decision" that demands "unilateral release of U.S. prisoners." He charged that "U.S. officials do not have a proper understanding of the concept of negotiations and agreements."

He added that "if there is a will [for negotiation] in America, the Iranian Foreign Minister's suggestion is clear and straightforward."

This could mean that as human rights activists have charged, Iran may be using prisoners, mainly dual nationals, as pawns or hostages in the negotiations they hope to start with the United States.

Zarif had said in New York on Wednesday that he is authorized to negotiate a prisoner swap with America, adding that he had made the same suggestions six months earlier but he has not received any response from the American side.

Zarif's claim about being in a position to start talks about prisoner exchange contradicts his previous claims about Iranian Judiciary being independent of the executive branch. He even repeated that claim yesterday when he was asked about other prisoners including Canadian-Iranian dual nationals in jail in Iran.

Meanwhile, Hadi Ghaemi, of the Iranian human rights watchdog ICHRI, tweeted on Thursday that in his remarks Zarif made three glaring admissions: "That Iran is holding dual nationals as political hostage, that Iran's Judiciary is not independent from the government, and that Iran does recognize dual nationality. "

Previously, Iranian officials including Zarif have denied all of these three statements.

Hours after Zarif's statement, the unnamed State Department official had written that he is aware of the Iranian Foreign Ministers' remarks about U.S. Citizens "wrongfully detained in Iran."

The official said that he noted Zarif’s reference to a humanitarian resolution of those cases." However, he suggested that Iran should release those prisoners immediately in order to prove its seriousness.

The official has named some of those unjustly detained U.S. persons as Xiue Wang, Siamak Namazi, Robert Levinson and Nizar Zakka among others.

U.S. Officials including President Donald Trump have said repeatedly that in order for Iran to become a normal country with which they could cooperate, Tehran needs to meet 12 conditions. Secretary Mike Pompeo has also said that If Iran wishes to come to the negotiating table it should first meet those 12 conditions, including respect for human rights.

Nevertheless, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday he would not begin any negotiation before all the pressures on Iran are removed and the United States apologizes for its actions and begins to treat Iran with mutual respect.

Meanwhile, Zarif had suggested swapping British Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghary-Ratcliffe with an Iranian prisoner in Australia, Negar Qods Kani. The United States has called for Kani's extradition on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

But in his interview with Reuters later, Zarif said he did not suggest swapping Zaghari-Ratcliffe with an Iranian in jail in Australia, adding hw was talking only about American prisoners.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, however, described the way Zarif handled the issue as generally “appalling.”

Although prisoner swaps between Iran and U.S. are not totally unprecedented, some Western analysts maintain that such behavior encourages further hostage taking of dual nationals by Iran, which usually detains them arbitrarily for political gain.

The Trump administration has criticized policies of his predecessor when deals were made to release prisoners.