Iran ready to swap prisoners over 'coronavirus concerns,' waiting for US response: reports

Iran ready to swap prisoners over 'coronavirus concerns,' waiting for US response: reports
Iranian government spokesperson, Ali Rabiei reportedly said Iran is waiting on a green light from Washington to proceed with a prisoner swap.
2 min read
10 May, 2020
Iran is said to hold at least four Americans [Getty]
Iran is ready to go forward with a prisoner exchange deal with the United States but is yet to hear back from Washington, reports by Iranian outlets said on Sunday.
Iranian journalists and media outlets quoted Iranian government spokesperson, Ali Rabiei citing coronavirus health concerns as the main driver for the deal.

"Iranian citizens in US prisons are not in good condition and we hold the American government responsible for the safety of all Iranian citizens [it holds captive]," Rabiei was quoted as saying.

Iran has not received a formal response from the US on the proposed exchange, Rabiei said. "It seems that the US has now more readiness than the past to terminate this condition ... Tehran, with no preconditions, is ready to talk on prisoner exchange." 

According to reports, Rabiei said the deal would not require a mediator between the two countries, which have grown increasingly hostile after US President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

Reuters reported last week that the prisoner swap would likely include the return of Michael White – a US navy veteran who was detained in Iran in 2018 and later released from prison on medical furlough, remaining in Iran.

In return, the US is set to deport Iranian professor Sirous Asgari, who was acquitted of stealing trade secrets, the news agency said.

Abolfaz Mehrabadi, a senior Iranian official, has told the New York Times that negotiations aim to exchange White with an Iranian-American doctor, whom he would not identify.

Read also: US urges Tehran to release American prisoners amid coronavirus crisis

The United States and Iran swapped prisoners last year. The 2019 US-Iran prisoner deal exchanged an American graduate student, Xiyue Wang, detained over spying allegations for imprisoned Iranian stem-cell researcher Massoud Soleimani, accused of violating sanctions.

Iran reportedly holds at least four Americans, at least three of whom are of Iranian descent, while Tehran says over 20 Iranians are held by the US. 

The US has confirmed over 1.3 million coronavirus infections as of Sunday, resulting in over 79,000 deaths. While numbers in Iran are substantially lower, the country has become the regional epicentre of the outbreak with over 106,000 coronavirus cases and 6,500 deaths resulting from infection.

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