US denies Iran’s claim of prisoner swap—though Oman had tried to mediate prisoner release

Oman was mediating the release of Americans wrongfully detained in Iran, but its efforts have produced little results.
A photo of the Sultan of Oman Haitham Haitham bin Tarik (right) is merged with a picture of US President Joe Biden. (Photo: Designed by Kurdistan 24)
A photo of the Sultan of Oman Haitham Haitham bin Tarik (right) is merged with a picture of US President Joe Biden. (Photo: Designed by Kurdistan 24)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – The U.S. strongly denied the claim made on Sunday by Iran’s Foreign Minister that a prisoner exchange between the two countries was imminent.

Tehran holds three Iranian-Americans, who were arrested and imprisoned, after traveling back to their country of birth.

“We have reached an agreement in recent days regarding the exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told a state broadcaster.

However, U.S. officials vehemently denied that. “Statements from Iranian officials that a deal regarding the exchange of prisoners has been reached are another especially cruel lie that only adds to the suffering of their families,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.

Similarly, a National Security Council Spokesperson stated, “Claims made by Iranian officials that we have reached a deal for the release of the U.S. citizens held by Iran are false.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister “has made similar comments in the past about possible deals with the U.S. on frozen assets abroad and other issues that never came to fruition,” the Associated Press reported. “Some of those remarks have appeared aimed at shoring up domestic support amid the mass protests challenging Iran’s theocracy and supporting the country’s troubled rial currency.

But there were Negotiations to Free Americans Held in Iran

In fact, there were attempts to negotiate the release of Americans detained by the Iranian regime—an important point that has received surprisingly little public attention.

Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. The White House read-out of their March 7 conversation consisted mostly of the anodyne statements that one expects from such documents: reaffirming “longstanding historical ties between our countries,” while “strengthening the U.S.-Oman strategic partnership.”

However, the White House read-out did contain one significant point that was largely overlooked: Oman was mediating with Tehran in an effort to release Americans detained there.

The read-out concluded with the sentence, “President Biden finally welcomed Oman’s historic role in securing the freedom of American citizens wrongfully held in Iran.”

That statement explains a point that, three weeks ago, had left journalists quite befuddled: Why did the U.S. Special Envoy to Iran, Rob Malley, travel to Oman?

An Iranian member of parliament had said that the Sultan of Oman would be traveling to Iran to discuss renewing the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.) 

At a State Department press briefing, a reporter noted that Rob Malley had recently visited Oman. Was the U.S. secretly negotiating the renewal of the JCPOA? He repeatedly pressed Ned Price on that point.

Price’s answer was, essentially, no. “The JCPOA is not on the agenda [and] has not been on the agenda for some time,” he responded. But the reporter failed to recognize that Price had hinted at other reasons why Malley might have visited Oman—the most plausible of which was to help free Americans detained in Iran. 

Read More: Possible Omani mediation to free Americans held in Iran

That point, was in essence, confirmed last week by Biden. Malley went to Oman, because the Omanis were involved in trying to free the three Americans wrongly detained in Tehran.

But no Results from Oman’s Mediation

It appears that Oman’s mediation has yielded little results. Certainly, no Americans have been released, and tensions between Washington and Tehran appear undiminished.

Shortly after the read-out of the discussion between President Biden and Sultan Haitham was published, Kurdistan 24 asked the State Department about the results of Oman’s mediation.

“We will not detail any diplomatic efforts underway,” a State Department Spokesperson replied. “Such discussions are sensitive and highly consequential for the U.S. citizens who have been wrongfully detained.”

But, as she affirmed, “we remain committed to securing the freedom of all U.S. citizens who continue to be wrongfully detained overseas, and we are working tirelessly to bring them home.”