Iran Plays Down Report That U.S. Secretly Asked for Talks on Prisoners


TEHRAN — An Iranian official dismissed as “old news” on Thursday a report in the Western news media that Washington had reached out to Tehran in December to establish secret, back-channel talks to negotiate the release of prisoners held by both sides.

The official, Hamidreza Taraghi, said that he had given interviews as far back as July to Iranian news outlets about similar attempts by the Trump administration to arrange secret talks on prisoners using intermediaries from Oman and from Europe.

But Mr. Taraghi, an adviser to the hard-liners around the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Iran had rejected the entreaties then and would never enter into discussions with the Trump administration.

“In the nuclear deal, they have shown themselves as dishonest, so what is the use of new talks anyway?” he said, referring to President Trump’s continuing threats to scuttle the pact negotiated with the United States during the Obama administration and with other world powers.

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Babak Namazi spoke at a news conference in Vienna in April. His father, Baquer Namazi, pictured left, and his brother Siamak, right, were convicted by an Iranian court in 2016 of collaborating with a hostile power.

Credit
Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Iran acknowledged last May that it had discussed the issue of imprisoned Iranian-Americans with Trump administration officials at a meeting in Vienna on compliance with the nuclear accord. Another effort was made at a similar meeting in Vienna in December, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, but that overture and others were rejected.

At least four American citizens and two permanent residents of the United States are known to be held in Iranian prisons. A fifth American, Robert A. Levinson, has been missing in Iran for more than a decade.

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