Biden administration officials on Sunday morning denied reports from Iranian state-run media that the U.S. and Britain have agreed to free up $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds in exchange for the release of American prisoners held in the Islamic republic.
The contradictory claims come amid indirect talks between the countries in Vienna. The U.S. and Iran, along with Britain and other world powers, are aiming to resurrect the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which put limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief.
Former President Trump withdrew from that deal in 2018. President Biden has said he intends to reenter the agreement or strike another like it.
But the U.S. and Iran have been at an impasse for months. The U.S. and its European allies argue Iran must reduce uranium enrichment and bring its nuclear program back in line with the JCPOA, while Tehran wants sanctions relief before scaling back any nuclear activities.
Sunday morning’s announcement on Iranian State TV suggested that Washington and London had caved to Iranian demands and were prepared to unfreeze billions of dollars in exchange for the release of prisoners, while Iran took no action to roll back its nuclear program.
The State Department said that announcement is false.
“Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told the Associated Press. “As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”
The Iranian report said that the U.S. also would release four Iranian prisoners in exchange for the freeing of four American “spies.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC’s “This Week” program that there is no deal and that the two nations still have key issues to work through.
“There is still fair distance to travel to close the remaining gaps, and those gaps are over what sanctions the United States and other countries will roll back,” he said. “They are over what nuclear restrictions Iran will accept on its program to ensure that they can never get a nuclear weapon. And our diplomats will keep working at that over the coming weeks to try to arrive at a mutual return to the JCPOA, which is the Iran nuclear deal, on a compliance-for-compliance basis.”
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