Iran Seeks Unconditional Talks on Prisoner Swap
Iran says it is ready for unconditional talks with the United States on a prisoner swap because of fears that the coronavirus is endangering inmates, the Iranian news media reported Sunday.
An Iranian news website, Khabaronline.ir, quoted the cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei as saying there is a “readiness for all prisoners” to be discussed without any conditions.
“But the U.S. has refused to answer, so far,” Mr. Rabiei said. “We hope that as the outbreak of the Covid-19 disease threatens the lives of Iranian citizens in the U.S. prisons, the U.S. government eventually will prefer lives to politics.”
A senior American official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “There has been no offer, and no offer of direct talks.”
Mr. Rabiei said Iran considered the United States government responsible for the health of Iranian prisoners, adding that “it seems that the U.S. has more readiness to bring the situation to an end.” He did not elaborate, but the Iranian news media have said in recent months that several Iranians are in American custody, including Sirous Asgari, a 60-year-old professor.
Last week, United States officials said they were making progress in efforts to secure the release of a Navy veteran detained by Iran. But they were also pushing back on Iranian suggestions that a swap was in the works for the imprisoned Iranian professor. American officials have been trying to deport Mr. Asgari since last year.
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, said Wednesday that Mr. Asgari’s case had never been connected to that of the United States Navy veteran, Michael R. White. He expressed frustration with recent comments from Iranian officials that there may be a link between the two and complained that Iran had been slow to accept Mr. Asgari’s return.
Mr. White, of Imperial Beach, Calif., was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.
He was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in Iran. Mr. White is among tens of thousands of prisoners granted medical furloughs by Iran, which was one of the first countries to be hit hard as the coronavirus pandemic spread.
Trump administration officials have repeatedly said they consider the release of American hostages and detainees to be a high priority.
In March, the family of Robert A. Levinson, a retired F.B.I. agent who vanished in Iran in 2007, said they had been informed by American officials that they had determined that Mr. Levinson was probably dead. Officials have not said how they reached that conclusion.