Tehran insists a deal has been reached while Washington denies it

Iran and US clash over prisoner exchange


Iran and the United States are once again accusing each other of blocking a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. This is nothing new, since the two countries decided to maintain indirect contacts to resume the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last April, in the framework of the Vienna Talks, neither has given in. Both the US and the Islamic Republic are demanding that the other take the first step towards resuming the nuclear pact.

For its part, Iran is demanding the lifting of all financial sanctions, while the United States is asking the Islamic Republic to bring its nuclear programme back to the standards stipulated in the pact. The Vienna Talks have now accumulated six rounds of negotiations, the last of which took place in June, and it has not yet been possible to reach an agreement between the signatories to the pact - Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and the United States - and Iran. Moreover, a return to the negotiating table does not appear to be imminent.

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ran has already announced that until the newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi, is sworn in in August and forms a government, the Persian country will not resume the Vienna Talks, so the process could take months. In parallel to the negotiations for a return to the nuclear deal, Iran and the US have reportedly been discussing a prisoner exchange. The US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, noted that President Joe Biden has insisted on the release of all Americans and will not accept "partial deals". Malley called the release of Americans imprisoned in the Islamic Republic a "priority," adding that "some progress has been made" in negotiations with Iran, NBC News reported.

Despite initial optimism, as is often the case with anything involving the US and Iran, the two now accuse each other of torpedoing the prisoner exchange. Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said on Twitter that the US and UK need to stop linking a "humanitarian" exchange, which Abbas said is already being implemented, to the nuclear pact. "We are in a period of transition. Therefore, it is obvious that the Vienna Talks must wait for our new administration. This is what any democracy demands," he added.


Iran accuses both the UK and the US of denying the prisoner swap deal and linking it to the nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic has stressed that "ten prisoners from all sides can be released immediately if the US and the UK fulfil their part of the agreement". Said Khatibzade, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, called it "outrageous" that the US denies that an agreement has been reached and insisted that "Iran is ready to implement it today".

In response, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said "these comments are an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current stalemate", according to EFE. "We are prepared to return to Vienna to complete the work on a mutual return to the JCPOA once Iran has made the necessary decisions," Price added. 


Prisoner exchanges between Iran and the US are not unusual and in recent years both countries have sought the release of their nationals detained in the other country. However, the issue has become highly sensitive since Washington has been trying to resume dialogue with Tehran to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, which originally included prisoner exchanges. Iran is holding dozens of foreigners or Iranians with dual nationality, mainly accused of espionage, who are often used as leverage. As for Iranians detained in the US or other countries, they are generally accused of violating sanctions that Washington imposed on Tehran in 2018 after it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal.