Creating new perspectives since 2009

Oman FM: Iran, US close to deal on release of American prisoners

June 15, 2023 at 7:36 pm

Foreign Minister of Oman Sayyid Badr Albusaidi (R) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) in Muscat, Oman on December 28, 2022 [Iranian Foreign Ministry – Anadolu Agency]

Iran and the United States are reportedly on the verge of a significant prisoner release agreement, amid the recent revival in nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers.

In an interview with the news outlet, Al-Monitor, yesterday, Oman’s Foreign Minister, Sayyid Badr Albusaidi, said he senses “seriousness” from both the US and Iran surrounding talks to agree on a nuclear deal, and that the two are close to striking an agreement on the release of American prisoners from Iran.

The American prisoners – Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz – have been detained in the notorious Evin Prison in the Iranian capital, Tehran, since between 2015 and 2020, on charges of espionage.

As part of the talks, according to a US State Department spokesperson who talked to the paper, Washington is “concurrently urging Iran to take a de-escalatory path after several months of negative developments”.

It comes after intermittent negotiations between Iran and Western powers broke down in September last year, following new demands by Tehran that reportedly went beyond the scope of the initial nuclear deal in 2015, in which Iran was to limit its enrichment of uranium in return for the lifting of sanctions and unfreezing of funds.

READ: Iran’s Khamenei says ‘nothing wrong’ with a nuclear deal with West

One such step in de-escalation would reportedly be the release of those prisoners, with Omani Foreign Minister, Albusaidi, saying of the potential release that “I can say they are close. This is probably a question of technicalities.”

Another issue is the release of billions of dollars of Iranian assets that are frozen in South Korean banks under the ongoing US sanctions, which may be available for Iran to access under a proposed mechanism for strictly humanitarian purposes.

According to Albusaidi, Tehran and Washington “need to have a framework [and] a timeframe of how this should be orchestrated … I think they’re ironing those things out.”

There was a sign of that last week, when the US approved Iran’s access to $2.7 billion in gas and electricity debt which it was owed by Iraq. That was, however, downplayed by the US State Department as a routine clearance “for humanitarian and other non-sanctionable transactions”.

Albusaidi cited a “positive atmosphere” surrounding the nuclear talks overall, expressing Muscat’s belief in Tehran’s seriousness in reaching an agreement. “As long as the other side also reciprocates in good faith, they’re willing to do this”.

Over the past month, there have been signs of Iran’s increased openness to releasing Western prisoners, in general, with Iranian authorities releasing Belgian aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, in late May, as well as one Danish and two Austrian detainees in early June, in deals reportedly brokered by Oman.

READ: Iran’s nuclear chief says higher uranium enrichment aims to push West to lift sanctions