White House insists Iran nuclear negotiations separate from US hostage talks

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that US efforts to free Americans detained in Iran are “separate” from negotiations to curb the country’s nuclear program.

Psaki said the issues aren’t linked after the US denied an Iran state media report that the US will unfreeze $7 billion in Iranian assets for the release of four Americans. Four Iranians also would be freed.

“Our policy as the US government has not changed on ransom. But I will tell you that discussions to bring home Americans who are held in Iran are something that are raised — that is raised at the highest level through discussions,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing.

“Obviously those are indirect, those are often indirect discussions where we have our own channels, of course. And they are separate from the nuclear discussions in Vienna.”

She added: “It is a commitment and a desire by this administration to certainly bring those hostages back. But reports over the weekend that an agreement had been reached to exchange prisoners was not true.”

Iran’s release of US prisoners typically is the result of an exchange — including in January 2016, when the Obama administration airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran as the country released four Americans, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.

Former President Donald Trump often denounced the Obama administration for flying pallets of cash to Iran as the US unfroze $1.7 billion in assets as part of implementation of the broader multilateral nuclear deal. The funds were unfrozen the same day as US citizens were released.

Trump in 2018 repudiated the Iran nuclear deal, but his administration still won the release of some American detainees.

In June, Iran released US Navy veteran Michael White in exchange for the US allowing dual citizen Majid Taheri to visit Iran, despite charges in the US for violating sanctions.

In 2019, Iran released US citizen Xiyue Wang in exchange for the US releasing detained Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani.

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