“The discussions on unjustly detained and innocent Americans remains separate from the JCPOA talks,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
“Special Envoy [Robert] Malley has reiterated, ‘…it’s very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal’ — or agreeing to kind of a new iteration of the deal, to the point of your question — ‘while four innocent Americans’ — and others — “are being held hostage by Iran’,” she added.
“It’s really a matter of urgency to bring the detainees home, and we want it to be resolved immediately. But it is happening from a — through a separate channel — those conversations,” Psaki continued.
On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Tehran was ready for an immediate prisoner exchange with Washington.
“Iran has always and repeatedly expressed its readiness to exchange prisoners. Months ago we were ready to do it but the Americans ruined the deal,” a senior Iranian official in Tehran told Reuters, without elaborating.
“Now I believe some of them will be released, maybe five or six of them. But those talks about prisoners are not linked to the nuclear agreement, rather associated with it. This is a humanitarian measure by Iran,” the official added.
In January, Malley stated the United States is unlikely to strike an agreement with Iran to save the 2015 nuclear deal unless Tehran releases four American citizens Washington claims it is holding hostage. Iran has categorically rejected any US preconditions for its return to the landmark agreement.
In recent years, Iran has arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on espionage and security-related charges. Rights groups have accused Iran of taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage, while Western powers have long demanded that Tehran free their citizens, who they say are political prisoners. Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.
Iran has blasted the US for linking a humanitarian exchange of prisoners with the talks over the revival of the accord. Tehran has also rejected calls for wider negotiations over its military activities and missile defense program, stressing it would only discuss over its nuclear program with world powers.
Some Iranians are in US jails just because of ignoring Washington illegal sanctions on Tehran.
“In terms of the status of the JCPOA talks, we have made substantial progress — or substantial progress has been made over the last week or so, and is continuing to be made,” Psaki noted.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And so, until then, I’m not going to give you a rosy assessment. But it is, of course, good that substantial progress has been made. If Iran shows seriousness, we believe we can and should reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” she said.
Amir Abdollahian has stated Iran and the P4+1 group of countries have never been this close to reaching a good agreement since they started talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Chritian Amanpour in Munich earlier this week,
Amir Abdollahian said Iran is optimistic about reaching an agreement in Vienna because the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi has a strong will to achieve a good deal.
He added in order to get close to a good agreement, the Iranian team showed good initiatives and flexibility, but now it’s the Western side including the US and the European troika that should show flexibility and initiatives.