Iran said Sunday it had expressed readiness for a full prisoner exchange with the United States “with no preconditions” but that Washington was yet to respond.
“We said some time ago that we are ready to exchange all Iranian and American prisoners,” ISNA news agency quoted government spokesman Ali Rabiei as saying.
“It now appears that America is more ready than before to end this situation,” he added, noting that Iran was waiting for a reply.
“Washington has been notified of our readiness and we think no mediator is needed.”
The request comes amid fears that the coronavirus pandemic could take root in each country’s prisons.
Iran has reported the most cases in the Middle East, while the US is the worst-hit country in the world.
“We are worried about the safety and health of Iranians in jail… We hold America responsible for Iranians’ safety amid the new coronavirus outbreak,” Khabaronline quoted Rabiei as saying.
Should it go ahead, the swap would mark a rare instance of cooperation between the two nations after years of mounting tensions since US President Donald Trump took office and pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord while reimposing sanctions on Iran.
The two countries did swap prisoners in December, however, with Iran releasing the American student Xiyue Wang, detained for three years on spying charges, and going the other way Iranian stem-cell researcher Massoud Soleimani, accused of sanctions violations.
Last week, Iranian officials told Reuters that negotiations for a prisoner swap between the two countries was underway.
The US has in the past refused to comment publicly about the possibility of prisoner exchanges with Iran. Switzerland looks after US interests with Tehran.
It is thought that Michael White, a US navy veteran detained in Iran since 2018 but released on medical furlough in mid-March, could be released.
Several dozen Iranians are being held by the Americans, many for breaking sanctions.
One of them is Sirous Asgari, an Iranian scientist infected with the novel coronavirus while in detention, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.
US officials said on Tuesday that they were set to deport Asgari, who was acquitted of stealing trade secrets.
An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said last week that “everything is prepared” and declared “he will soon return to Iran” without elaborating further.
It is not clear exactly how many Americans Iran may hold, but they include father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi and environmental expert Morad Tahbaz.
Shortly after the December prisoner exchange, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that his side was “fully ready for [a] comprehensive prisoner exchange” with Washington.
“The ball is in the US’ court,” Zarif wrote on Twitter at the time.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March called on Tehran to free American prisoners as a humanitarian gesture because of the coronavirus.
Hostility between the countries reached historic heights this year.
In January, top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
In response, Iran fired a barrage of missiles at bases in Iraq where US troops were stationed.
Source: Middle East Eye