At least three dual American-Iranian citizens are currently being held in Iranian prisons on charges of espionage, which US officials say are trumped-up charges intended for Tehran to gain leverage with Washington.
The are: Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz – and the US has since labeled them ‘wrongfully detained’. Over the weekend Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian made headlines in a surprise announcement saying his country had reached a deal for a prisoner swap with the US.
“Regarding the exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States, we have reached an agreement in recent days and if everything goes well on the American side, then I think we will see the exchange of prisoners soon,” Amir-Abdollahian said in a Sunday televised statement. “We consider this a completely humanitarian case,” he added.
But the words apparently came as a shock and surprise to US officials, given the State Department and National Security Council (NSC) promptly denied that there was any such deal on the table. State Dept. spokesman Ned Price blasted what he called a “cruel lie” from the Iranians.
“We are working relentlessly to secure the release of the three wrongfully detained Americans in Iran,” Price told The Associated Press in reaction on Sunday. “We will not stop until they are reunited with their loved ones.”
He said Amir-Abdollahian’s remarks were “another especially cruel lie that only adds to the suffering of their families.”
Parallel to the State Department, Biden’s NSC issued the following statement: “Unfortunately, Iranian officials will not hesitate to make things up, and the latest cruel claim will cause more heartache for the families of Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz.” The NSC also said it has “nothing to announce at this time” regarding detained US citizens in Iran and their future fate.
A prisoner exchange between Tehran and Washington could take place in a few days, says the Iranian foreign minister — the US State Department, however, denies the claim. https://t.co/icUfcJbdZ8
— DW News (@dwnews) March 12, 2023
It remains unclear why Iran said there was a ‘done deal’ – but US officials have accused Tehran of routinely using US dual nationals it detains as political pawns in order to pressure the US. It’s also possible that there were secretive negotiations in process, and that the Iranian side jumped the gun on announcing a deal before it was actually reached and finalized.