Iran: We discussed prisoners with U.S. officials

Iran says it discussed Americans with dual citizenship held in Iran with American counterparts.

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Ben Ariel,

United States and Iran (illustration)
United States and Iran (illustration)

Iran said on Monday that it had discussed the issue of Americans with dual citizenship held in Iranian prisons during a meeting last week with the United States, reports The New York Times.

The discussion, during a meeting in Vienna on compliance with the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, was the first face-to-face exchange between emissaries from Iran and the United States since President Donald Trump took office.

The Trump administration said last week that U.S. diplomats used the meeting to press for the release of Americans being detained in Iran.

Bahram Ghasemi, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry in Tehran, confirmed on Monday that there had been a discussion, adding such talks in previous years had yielded “positive results.”

Ghasemi’s remarks, at a regular weekly news conference reported by Iranian media, did not suggest a negotiation was underway for the release of the Americans, all of them dual citizens of the United States and Iran.

Ghasemi did not identify any of them by name. At least four Americans of Iranian descent are known to be held in Iranian prisons on dubious charges, noted The New York Times.

His public acknowledgment that the imprisonment issue had been raised appeared to signal that Iranian leaders were at least open to the idea of negotiating with the Trump administration, despite its past criticism towards Iran.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal, saying it was “disastrous” and pledging to annul it.

After he was sworn in as president, Trump described the nuclear deal as “the worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated” and accused the Islamic Republic of “disrespecting” the United States because of the deal.

Iranian officials, for their part, brushed off Trump's remarks and said he cannot annul the nuclear deal even if wishes to do so.

The United States has repeatedly called for the prisoners’ release. Iran regards them as its citizens, with none of the rights to diplomatic access afforded to foreigners arrested in the country.

When the nuclear agreement was put into effect in January 2016, Iran released a number of dual nationals from the United States that it had arrested on spying and other charges, including Jason Rezaian, who was The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief.

The most prominent dual nationals currently imprisoned are Siamak Namazi, a businessman who had advocated improved relations with the United States, and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former United Nations Children’s Fund official, noted The New York Times.

Others include Karan Vafadari, an art gallery owner, and Afarin Niasari, Vafadari’s wife.

Another dual citizen, Robin Shahini, a San Diego State University graduate student arrested last July and later sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, was released on bail in March after he began a hunger strike.

The United States also has repeatedly asked Iran about Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran a decade ago.

Levinson's family in March filed a lawsuit against the Iranian government in the United States.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Iran, in part for inflicting emotional distress on Levinson’s wife and seven children.