The Biden administration criticized Iran on Saturday for accusing it of delaying a proposed prisoner exchange deal to force a speedy resumption of indirect nuclear talks.
The Foreign Ministry has criticized comments made by Iran’s deputy foreign minister as “outrageous” that claimed the US and Britain are holding the exchange “hostage” for negotiations on saving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
In two tweets from his verified account, Abbas Araghchi said nuclear talks in Vienna could not resume until the hard-line Iranian president-elect was inaugurated in early August. “We are in a transitional period where a democratic transfer of power is taking place in our capital,” he said.
Clearly, the nuclear talks “must wait for our new administration. This is what every democracy requires,” Araghchi said. He added that the US and Britain “need to understand this and stop linking humanitarian exchange — ready for action — to the JCPOA.”
“Keeping such an exchange hostage for political ends achieves neither,” said Aragchi, Iran’s chief negotiator at the Vienna talks. “Ten prisoners on all sides may be released tomorrow if the US and UK fulfill their part of the deal.”
The sixth round of nuclear talks ended last month without an agreement ahead of Iran’s presidential election, which was won by Ebrahim Raisi. The United States has repeatedly said it is ready for the seventh round as soon as Iran is ready, while also calling for the immediate release of American citizens detained in Iran.
In response to Araghchi’s remarks, US State Department spokesman Ned Price categorically rejected this claim, denied that there was already an agreement on the swap, and said the US was ready to continue talks on prisoners even while waiting for the resumption of nuclear negotiations.
“These comments are a nefarious attempt to shift blame for the current impasse from a possible mutual return to JCPOA compliance,” Price said. “We are ready to return to Vienna to complete work on a mutual return to the JCPOA once Iran takes the necessary decisions.”
Price described Aragchi’s reference to the imminent release of 10 prisoners on all sides as “just another cruel attempt to raise the hopes of their families”. “If Iran is really interested in making a humanitarian gesture, it will release the detainees immediately,” he said.
Price did not address Araghchi’s claim that Iran was in the midst of a “democratic transition of power” but deplored his suggestion that the United States and Britain were holding the prisoner exchange “hostage.” Four innocent Americans have been unjustly detained for years.”
Price said indirect talks about the detainees were progressing in the context of the Vienna nuclear negotiations and that “the delay in resuming that process is not helping.”
But, while he said the US believes that the prisoners’ talks would be more effective in this context, he added, “We are also ready to continue talks about detainees during” the current gap.
The Biden administration is trying to undo former President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear deal and has offered sanctions relief in exchange for Iran’s return to full compliance with its commitments.
While the Trump administration escalated its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran by reimposing sanctions that had been lifted under the initial agreement, Iran escalated its violations of the agreement by operating advanced centrifuges and increasing uranium enrichment and heavy water production. It also refused to answer questions from the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency about possible violations of other nuclear obligations.