LONDON – The U.S. and the U.K. dismissed reports coming out of Iran that they are thrashing out a prisoner exchange deal with Tehran that could see the imminent release of a British-Iranian woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and four Americans, among others.
Iran was a key topic of discussions Monday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his host in London, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Their meeting took place a day before the first face-to-face meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations in two years, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Iran, Ukraine, China, Russia, climate change and COVD-19 are expected to dominate the talks.
Blinken's visit to London, his first since being appointed by President Joe Biden, comes amid mounting speculation of a prisoner swap deal with Iran. Such exchanges are not uncommon and were a feature of the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and the world's leading powers. Biden has indicated he is looking to restart nuclear talks with Tehran after his predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018.
“The reports coming out of Tehran are not accurate," Blinken said at a press briefing after their meeting, adding that he had “no higher priority” than bringing all detained Americans home.
“More broadly on this, we have to take a stand against the arbitrary detention of citizens for political purposes,” he said.
Raab also dismissed the prospects of an imminent breakthrough amid reports in Iran that Britain would pay a 400 million-pound ($550 million) debt to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. He insisted that the British government was working “very intensively” on the release of detained British citizens in Iran.
“I would say it's incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who are held arbitrarily and in our view unlawfully,” Raab said.
In Britain, there's particular interest in the well-being of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was last week sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system.”