Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talked about prisoner swap with the US during an interview with CBS News, which will air on Sunday, saying that the US first “needs to prove that it’s serious” before the two countries can begin negotiations.
Zarif said a number of Iranians are in jail in the US for bypassing sanctions, and that the US government already knows which prisoners Iran would like in return for American prisoners in Iran being released.
“I am responsible for foreign policy. I’m not responsible for interfering in court’s decisions. I can intervene when there is an exchange, an offer of exchange. I cannot intervene as foreign minister,” Zarif said.
Zarif said that Iran had made an offer six months ago to the Trump administration to discuss the status of the prisoners but it went unanswered.
He added that Iran has received a letter from the US special envoy for Hostage Affairs, Robert O’Brien, requesting their release, but he dismissed the request, pointing out O’Brien’s lower diplomatic rank and characterizing his letter as more of a plea than a negotiation offer. He also objected to referring to the Americans as hostages rather than prisoners.
“We’re willing to talk to anybody who’s willing to respect Iran and deal with this issue. We don’t have anything against Ambassador O’Brien, but we will not deal with the hostage negotiator unless they want us to appoint somebody as our hostage negotiator so that they discuss about Iranian hostages in US jail,” Zarif said.
“These are cases where we believe our prisoners are in prison on bogus charges. The United States believes that they are in prison in Iran on bogus charges,” Zarif said.
The United States cannot put itself in a different moral position when discussing the case of prisoners with Iran, he added.
“I have enough responsibility on my shoulders to prevent a war, to try to circumvent US attempts to prevent Iran from engaging in what is legally ours, and that is normal economic relations. So, I do this as a part of my job, as foreign minister to exchange people without attribution of guilt. Simply to make it possible for people to go back home,” Zarif said.
He added that he was not connecting the deal, which President Trump pulled out of last year, with prisoner exchange negotiations, but was simply citing it as an example of demonstrated reliability by Iran.
“We’re not linking the two,” he said.
“We’ve shown that when we say something, we abide by it,” he added. “The United States has shown that when we say- it- they say something they will- they will then decide whether they want to abide by it or not.”
Zarif also said during the interview that Iran has responded to an offer the U.S. made on the matter and is awaiting a reply.