Iran accuses US, UK of holding prisoner exchange negotiations ‘hostage’ | Middle East News

Tehran says it wants to agree on a prisoner exchange, but the United States and Britain associate it with talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

Tehran, Iran – Iran’s top nuclear negotiator has accused the United States and the United Kingdom of holding prisoner exchange talks “hostage” after Iran said nuclear talks should be postponed until the new government takes office.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Iran was preparing for a transfer of power to the next administration of Ebrahim Raisi in early August, and therefore months of talks in Vienna to restore the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers must wait.

“The United States and Britain need to understand this and stop linking a humanitarian exchange – ready to be implemented – with the JCPOA,” he tweeted on Saturday with the formal name of the milestone agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan.

“Holding such an exchange as hostages for political alms does not achieve any of them,” he said, adding that ten prisoners on all sides could be released tomorrow if the other parties do their part.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said later on Saturday that the comments were “a monstrous effort to divert blame from the current dead end”.

“We are ready to return to Vienna to complete the work of a reciprocal return to the JCPOA once Iran has made the necessary decisions,” Price said, as reported by the Reuters news agency.

“As for the comments to the Americans that Iran has unfairly held against their will, we see only one more vicious effort to raise the hopes of their families … No agreement has been reached yet,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the British government.

Iran and the United States have been acknowledging for several months that they are participating in indirect talks – facilitated by Switzerland – to end an exchange of prisoners. Both sides said negotiations have gone on for the past week.

The two countries have conducted exchanges of prisoners twice before, once in January 2016, when the nuclear deal was implemented, and once in December 2019.

Like nuclear talks, it seems that the prisoner exchange is also postponed until the ultra-conservative Raisi takes office.

While diplomats had initially expressed hope that the JCPOA could be restored by the sixth anniversary of its signing on July 14, a report written by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to parliament last week confirmed that Raisi hopes to “complete” the process which started in Kan.

Zarif said most of the sanctions that the United States has imposed on Iran since 2018 – when it unilaterally abandoned the JCPOA – will be lifted if agreement is reached in Vienna. But the steps Iran has taken to advance its nuclear program, including enriching uranium to more than 60 percent and producing uranium metal, have also complicated negotiations.

The Vienna talks are likely to continue in the second half of August, but it remains to be seen how political differences in Tehran will develop until then. In addition to influencing the timeline, Raisi’s team has already had a direct impact on the course of the talks, as he has appointed two members to a newly formed “Adaptation Committee” tasked with reviewing progress.

These members are Security Officer Ali Hosseini-Tash and former nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, both of whom are believed to be potential candidates to replace veteran diplomat Zarif as foreign minister.

The committee is also reportedly composed of Araghchi; Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council; Ali Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization in Iran; and two legislators.

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