Zarif says Iran ready for comprehensive prisoner swap, ball in US court
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced the country “fully ready” to exchange other prisoners with the United States following the recent prisoner swap between Tehran and Washington.
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"After getting our hostage back this week, fully ready for comprehensive prisoner exchange,” Zarif said in a Monday tweet in clear reference to Soleimani’s exchange with Xiyue Wang — a Chinese-born US citizen who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage in Iran in 2017.
After declaring Iran's readiness to exchange more prisoners with the US, Zarif noted that the issue depended on the will of the American side, adding, “The ball is in the US’ court.”
Back in October last year, Soleimani, 49, left Iran on sabbatical last year but was arrested upon arrival in Chicago and transferred to prison in Atlanta, Georgia for unspecified reasons.
When he left Tehran last fall, Soleimani, a professor and biomedical researcher at Tarbiat Modares University (TMU) in Tehran, planned to complete his research on treating stroke patients as a visiting scholar at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Prosecutors in Atlanta had accused him and two of his former students of conspiring and attempting to export vials of human growth hormone from the US to Iran without authorization, in violation of US sanctions.
Zarif’s remarks came after the spokesman for the Iranian administration said earlier on Monday that Iran was ready to secure the release of all Iranians held illegally in US prisons.
“We are happy that the United States made the right decision in this case to release an innocent Iranian and we also commend the Swiss government for its goodwill,” Ali Rabiei said, adding, “As we said before, we are ready to secure the release of all Iranians who are being illegally held in US prisons.”
"As we have already declared, the US can right away stop unjust sanctions it has imposed [on Iran] to prepare the ground for [talks within framework of the] P5+1 [group]," he added.
The spokesman emphasized that it is up to the US to make such a decision and reiterated that Iran would hold no negotiations about the swap of prisoners.
The P5+1 refers to a group of six world powers, which clinched a deal with Iran over the country’s nuclear program back in July 2015 and – at that time – consisted of the United States, the UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany.
After the election of Donald Trump as the US president in 2016, his administration withdrew from the nuclear deal and reimposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, which had been lifted under the nuclear deal, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In response, Tehran has so far rowed back on its nuclear commitments four times in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as the European signatories — France, Britain and Germany — find practical ways to shield mutual trade from the US sanctions.
Since then Trump has on various occasions indicated his interest in starting renewed talks with Iran to achieve a new deal over the country’s nuclear program, but Iran has rejected his calls saying that any such talks could be only possible if the US returned to the JCPOA, lifted all sanctions on Iran and engaged in talks only within the frame of the P5+1 group.