Iran will release prisoners with Western ties to Iran in exchange for billions of US and UK dollars, state television reported on Sunday. The United States denied the report, while the United Kingdom did not respond.
The state television report quoted an anonymous official as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei began delivering what authorities earlier described as an “important” speech. However, Khamenei did not immediately discuss an exchange proposal during negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
The official quoted by Iranian state television said an agreement between the United States and Tehran involved an exchange of prisoners in exchange for the release of $ 7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
“The Americans agreed to pay $ 7 billion and exchange four Iranians active in circumventing sanctions for four American spies who have served part of their sentences,” state television said, quoting the official.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iranian state television report. “Reports that a prisoner exchange deal has been made is not true,” he said. “As we said, we always bring up the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families. “
Tehran currently holds four Americans in prison. Among them are Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz and Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi. The state television report did not immediately name the Iranians Tehran hoped to get in the exchange.
State television also quoted the official as saying that an agreement had been made for the UK to pay £ 400million to see the release of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office referred the appeals to the Foreign Office, which could not be reached immediately.
Last week Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to an additional year in prison, her lawyer said, for spreading “propaganda against the system” for participating in a protest outside the Iranian embassy in London in 2009.
It came after serving a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic after being convicted of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, a charge she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, she was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 on her way home to Britain after visiting his family.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe told The Associated Press he was not aware of any ongoing exchanges.
“We didn’t hear anything,” he said. “Of course, we probably wouldn’t, but my instinct is to be skeptical for now.”
Earlier on Sunday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC he believed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held “illegally” by Iran.
“I think she was treated in the most abusive and torturous way,” Raab said. “I think that is tantamount to torturing the way she was treated and there is a very clear and unequivocal obligation on the Iranians to release her and all those who are being held as leverage immediately and unconditionally.”