Iran ready to swap prisoners, urges US to free jailed Iranians: report

Iran is ready for a prisoner swap with the United States, its foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Wednesday, with one of the people Washington would like to free from Iranian custody being Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi.

Over a dozen Iranians feature on Teheran’s list as prisoners it seeks to exchange. The list includes seven Iranian-American dual nationals, two Iranians with permanent US residency and four Iranian citizens with no legal status in the US.

We are ready to swap prisoners with Washington... The US must release jailed Iranian citizens without any conditions,” Iranian MFA spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying.

The official went on to call on President Joe Biden's administration to “act instead of performing theatrical shows”.

The Iranian statement follows US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Tuesday tweet in which he recalled Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi had now spent 2,500 days “wrongfully detained” in Iran, adding that Washington was determined to secure the freedom of all Americans held by its Middle East adversary. Mr Namazi has been detained in Iran since October 13, 2015. He was convicted on charges that include espionage and collaboration with the US government.

Held in Iran

Other US citizens barred from leaving Iran are Siamak Namazi’s father Mohammad Baquer Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz.

Mr Namazi Sr, an Iranian-American former civil servant who served as Governor of Khuzestan Province under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was arrested in February 2016 when he went to Iran to try to free his son.

“We are determined to secure his freedom and ensure all Americans who have been wrongfully detained by Iran, including… Baquer, can return home,” Mr Blinken wrote.

Both Baquer and Siamak were sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2016. The father was released on medical leave in 2018 and is serving his sentence under house arrest.

Emad Shargi is an Iranian-American businessman who, while on a trip to Iran with his wife, was taken into Iranian custody on April 23, 2018. He was held inside Evin prison for eight months before being released on bail, followed by a clearing of spying and national security charges in November 2019 by an Iranian court. Still, he had his passport confiscated, which prevented his departure from Iran.

Only weeks had passed since President Joe Biden’s 2020 election and Mr Shargi was re-arrested “while illegally fleeing the country through its western borders,” as Iranian state media put it. The Revolutionary Court informed Shargi that he had been tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.

Morad Tahbaz, a British-born Iranian-American businessman, conservationist and co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), was detained in January 2018 along with eight other PWHF-affiliated individuals. Mr Tahbaz holds both the US and UK citizenships.

According to various media reports, Mr Tahbaz has been released from prison on furlough at least twice. The first time he had been released was on March 16, 2022, but was returned to prison two days later.

He was released again on furlough with an ankle bracelet in late July 2022.

The Iranian spokesperson Kanaani made the statement as Tehran and Washington sought to revive a 2015 nuclear pact after lengthy negotiations. The EU and the US said on Tuesday they were studying Iran's response to what the EU has called its “final” proposal to save the deal, after Tehran called on Washington to show flexibility.