UPDATE: (Jazz) It took a little while, but the State Department has denied that any prisoner exchange deal with Iran has been reached. Department spokesman Ned Price responded with a brief set of remarks. “Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true,” Price said. “As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”
Price has been caught putting out information that had to be reeled back in before, but this sounds fairly solid. It’s a curious sort of denial, though, isn’t it? He’s saying the reports “are not true.” But he then immediately turns around and says that we “always raise the cases” of Americans detained in Iran. Well, if you’re not negotiating with them, who did you “raise the cases” with? Keep an eye on this story. Don’t be shocked if there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Original story continues below.
Assuming this turns out to be true (which remains a large assumption) some startling news came out on Iranian state television today just as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was preparing to give an “important speech” to his citizens. According to an unnamed Iranian official, a deal has been struck between the Iranian government and the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom. The deal would supposedly involve both of our countries freeing up billions of dollars in Iranian funds currently locked from their access by sanctions. In addition, the United States would release four Iranians currently in prison for repeatedly violating those sanctions. In exchange, Iran would release four Americans currently imprisoned there and one British woman. We should note upfront that this hasn’t been confirmed and there are several good reasons to doubt the story. (Associated Press)
Iran will free prisoners with Western ties in Iran in exchange for billions of dollars from the United States and the United Kingdom, state television reported Sunday. The U.S. and the U.K. did not immediately acknowledge any swap.
The state TV report quoted an anonymous official just as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei began giving what authorities earlier described as an “important” speech. However, Khamenei did not immediately discuss any proposed swap amid negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
The official quoted by Iranian state TV said a deal made between the U.S. and Tehran involved a prisoner swap in exchange for the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
Neither the American nor British governments responded immediately to a request for comments by the Associated Press. You can take that either way, really. On the one hand it might be a signal that there’s nothing to comment on because no such deal was made. But then again, this is such a potentially damaging political story that you could easily imagine that they would rush to deny it if it weren’t true.
Still, I find the story suspicious. The last time we checked, Iran and the Biden administration were tentatively reaching out to possibly restart talks in the nuclear deal, but that had only reached the stage of third parties representing each nation speaking to each other. This would be a much bigger deal (both literally and figuratively) than you’d expect to see put down in ink without some direct negotiations taking place. Of course, Joe Biden’s team has been keeping a lot of information close to the vest thus far, so I suppose it’s not entirely impossible that some talks have been going on without word leaking out to the press.
But does this sound like the sort of deal Biden would even want? How many headlines were generated during the Obama administration about “pallets of cash” going to Iran? That turned out to be a massive embarrassment for Obama and Biden and I would think that Uncle Joe would steer clear of having a repeat performance so soon in his first term as President. Even if this sort of deal was being framed as part of the nuclear deal negotiations, it still smells awful.
We’ll update this when we get some sort of response from the White House and BoJo’s administration one way or the other.