Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said during an interview in New York on Wednesday that Iran is ready to swap prisoners with the United States.
"I put this offer on the table publicly now. [Let's] Exchange them”, Zarif said during an interview at the Asia Society in New York, adding that he has the authority to swap prisoners.
This comes while on previous occasions, he said he was not able to intervene in the affairs of Iran's Judiciary.
However, he made any such deal conditional on exchange of Iranians facing extradition to U.S. for sanctions violations.
Zarif's sudden talk about a prisoner exchange comes after the United States scrapped exemptions allowing Iran's main clients to buy Iranian oil. The move strips Iran of billions of dollars in much needed revenue.
According to tweets on the Asia Society's @AsiaSociety "timeline," including those by Adam Weinstein @AdamamNoahWho, Zarif also expressed sympathy for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British Iranian dual national who is in jail in Tehran, but then shifted the focus to Iranians imprisoned on sanctions charges and claimed they’re facing similar hardships for trying to import parts for civilian aircraft.
Weinstein also tweeted that Zarif claims he offered to negotiate an exchange 6 months ago with no response. Reiterated that he lacks control over internal arrests in response to environmental scientists. “We have a separate judiciary...My job is to try to arrange for a deal, an exchange. I did it once.”
Based on another tweet in the Asia Society's timeline, while Zarif was leaving, someone mentioned Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian's case who was jailed in Iran but was released apparently in the course of a prisoners exchange as Iran and the West entered the 2015 nuclear agreement. Zarif said he spent many “sleepless nights” securing his release and was ready to do it again.
According to Reuters, referring to a number of Iranians who are in jail in America, Zarif said: "We believe accusations against them are fake. The United States has a similar view about their prisoners in Iran, but let us not argue about this now."
He said: "Let us exchange them. I have the authority to do that." However, he did not say who has authorized him to swap prisoners. Previously he said he was not able to do that as the Judiciary was independent of the executive branch.
Official news agency IRNA quoted Zarif as saying "There are Iranians in jail in the United States and Europe because the U.S. has accused them of violating the sanctions. They are accused of shipping passenger aircraft, not jets. We have an interpreter who is in jail in Australia and has given birth to a child in jail."
Zarif said he has done whatever he could for Nazanin Zaghari, "but no one talks about the Iranian woman who is in jail in Australia."
At the same time contradicting himself, Zarif said about the environmental scientists in jail for more than a year in Iran: "This is not my job. Our Judiciary is independent. I have not agreed with the accusations against them, but I am busy enough preventing wars and economic pressures."
One of the scientists has died in jail in January 2018 in suspicious circumstances two weeks after his arrest, and eight others are still in prison, four facing heavy sentences for charges including "spreading corruption on Earth."