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U.S. Secretly Tried To Open Talks With Iran Over Prisoners: WSJ

Xiyue Wang (right), a U.S. citizen, Baquer and Siamak Namazi (middle) two Iranian-Americans and Nizar Zakka a U.S. permanent resident(left)

For the first time in the presidency of Donald Trump, the U.S. signaled its willingness in December to do a prisoner swap with Iran, Wall Street Journal reported on February 8.

But Tehran has reportedly not responded to three attempts by Washington to engage in negotiations that could lead to freedom for at least four American citizens charged with spying and political accusations.

Iran has arrested Americans and Westerners before on vague accusations, tried them behind closed doors and put them in prison.

During the Obama administration the Islamic Republic was holding five U.S. citizens. As the 2015 nuclear agreement reached implementation, a deal was apparently struck and they were released in early 2016.

At the same time, the U.S. transferred hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Tehran, in what became a controversial move during an election year in America.

Unnamed U.S. officials told WSJ that in mid-December, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon tried to open a channel with Iran during an international meeting in Vienna.

WSJ also quotes an unnamed Iranian official who blamed the U.S. for lack of talks, saying that the Trump administration cannot expect progress when it uses threats against Iran.

While the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani and his team may want to make a deal, such decision in Iran are made by the hardliners, headed by the Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei and by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

There are also Iranians and American-Iranians in U.S. prisons, charged with crimes related to evasion of sanctions.