Iran says prisoner swap offer only for US not the UK

Tehran: A prisoner swap offered by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is only for the United States and would not involve Britain, the foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying Friday.

“The offer does not concern the Britons,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks published by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

“It is only related to Iranian and American prisoners,” he said.

On Wednesday, Zarif proposed that Iranians jailed in the United States or held in other countries on extradition requests issued by the Americans could be swapped for foreigners imprisoned in Iran.

“I put this offer on the table publicly now: exchange them, all these people that are in prison inside the United States, on extradition request from the United States, we believe the charges against them are phoney,” Zarif said at the Asia Society in New York.

“The United States believes the charges against these people in Iran are phoney… let’s have an exchange,” Zarif said as he participated in a UN session.

Zarif specifically mentioned the case of Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman who was arrested by Australia in 2017 and separated from her newborn child as the United States asks for her extradition.

He drew a parallel to British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and was convicted to five years in prison in Iran for sedition.

“We hear about Nazanin Zaghari and her child, and I feel sorry for her… but nobody talks about this lady in Australia who gave birth to her child in prison,” Zarif said.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday rejected any prisoner swap involving Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a “vile” diplomatic ploy.

Mousavi insisted that Zarif’s proposed prisoner swap “had nothing to do with” Britons.

He said that the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe “is completely different”.

“The case that the British authorities speak about is completely different and the responsibility of its situation lies with the British government,”, he said, referring to Hunt’s comments.

Iranian authorities accuse Zaghari-Ratcliffe of plotting against the government. Her daughter is in the care of Iranian grandparents.

Ghodskani, a legal resident of Australia, was arrested after US prosecutors said she sought US digital communications technology by presenting herself as an employee of a Malaysian company.

US prosecutors said she in fact was sending the technology to Iranian company Fanamoj, which works in public broadcasting.

Iran has in previous years arrested a number of American and Iranian-US dual nationals on espionage charges some of whom have been convicted and are serving prison terms.