Teheran –Iran says it is ready for talks to exchange unconditional prisoners with the United States for fear that coronavirus could put the lives of prisoners at risk, Iranian media reported on Sunday. An Iranian news website, Khabaronline.ir, quoted cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei as saying there is a «willingness for all prisoners» to be discussed unconditionally.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei/AFP
«But the United States has refused to respond, so far,» Rabiei said. «We hope that as the outbreak of Covid-19 disease threatens the lives of Iranian citizens in U.S. prisons, the U.S. government will finally prefer lives to politics.»
Rabiei said Iran holds the U.S. government responsible for the health of Iranian prisoners, adding that «it appears that the United States is more willing to end the situation.» Rabiei gave no further details, but Iranian media in recent months said there are several Iranians in U.S. custody, including Sirous Asgari, a 60-year-old university professor. Last week, U.S. officials said they were making progress in efforts to secure the release of a Navy veteran detained in Iran. But they also rejected Iranian suggestions that an exchange was being worked on for imprisoned Iranian US officials who have been trying to deport since last year. Ken Cuccinelli, the acting undersecretary of Homeland Security, said Wednesday that the cases of U.S. detainee Michael White in Iran and Asgari, the Iranian imprisoned in the United States, have never been related. He expressed frustration with recent comments from Iranian officials that there may be a link between the two and complained that Iran had been slow to accept Asgari’s return.
White, from Imperial Beach, California, was arrested in July 2018 while visiting a bride in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and publishing private information online. He was released from prison in March by a medical permit that forced him to remain in the country. White is among the tens of thousands of prisoners to which Iran granted them medical permits, which was one of the first countries to be hit by the growing coronavirus. Trump administration officials have repeatedly said they see the release of U.S. hostages and detainees a high priority. In December, Iran released a Princeton University scholar held for three years on widely contested espionage charges in exchange for the release of a detained Iranian scientist. In March, the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago, said us officials had informed him that they had determined that Levinson was likely dead. The authorities have not said how they came to that conclusion.