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Iran's Zarif Challenges Trump To Return To Nuclear Deal

Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran and U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, after White's release. June 4, 2020

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has responded to Donald Trump’s conciliatory tone, following a deal to release an American prisoner, by challenging him to return to the Obama-era nuclear deal.

After what appears to have been secret talks over a long period, Iran on Thursday released Michael White who was held on trumped-up charges since 2018.

As White was on his way from Switzerland to the U.S. Thrusday evening, Trump tweeted, "Thank you to Iran, it shows a deal is possible!"

Zarif, addressing Trump, tweeted Friday, "We achieved humanitarian swap despite your subordinates' efforts".

"We had a deal when you entered office. ... Your advisors -most fired by now - made a dumb bet. Up to you to decide when you want to fix it."

Also, on Friday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi confirmed that Zarif met Bill Richardson, a former U.S. envoy to the United Nations and a troubleshooter, "months ago" over prisoner releases.

"We have always responded positively to humanitarian efforts that would lead to the release of Iranian hostages in the United States and elsewhere," Mousavi told the official IRNA news agency.

But Trump had earlier fired off another tweet telling Iran, “So great to have Michael home. Just arrived. Very exciting. Thank you to Iran. Don’t wait until after U.S. Election to make the Big deal. I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!”

Many observers believe Iran is trying to weather the back-breaking U.S. sanctions hoping to see trump out of office in November, counting on getting a break from a Democratic president.

But despite the Iranian foreign ministry’s milder comments, a top Iranian security official denied that negotiations with Washington had led to the prisoner swap.

"The exchange of prisoners is not the result of negotiations & no talks will happen in future," Ali Shamkhani, a hardliner Revolutionary Guard commander secretary of the country's top national security body, said on Twitter. He did not elaborate on how the swap had been arranged.

Later on Friday U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said the door remains open for a wider negotiation with Iran about its nuclear program and other issues but so far talks have been limited to prisoner releases.

"(President Donald Trump) has had the door open...So, we would like to see the (Iranian) regime meet our diplomacy with diplomacy," he told reporters one day after Iran freed U.S. citizen Michael White.

With reporting by Reuters