Iran Offers US 'Unconditional' Prisoner Swap, Fears 'Safety' Of Citizens Amid COVID-19

On a weekend marking the second anniversary of the Trump administration's pullout from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), Tehran has made a huge offer in the hopes of thawing tensions, which in January saw the US and Iran nearly go to war. 

Iranian officials said they are prepared for an 'unconditional' swap of all prisoners between the countries. The same officials, however, are already blaming the US side for its slow response, noting they've yet to hear anything back.

“We have stated our readiness to discuss the release of all prisoners without preconditions... but Americans have not responded yet. It seems to us that Americans are more prepared than before to end this situation,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Sunday, as cited in Reuters.

December 2019: "The American student Xiyue Wang was turned over to Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iran, in a surprise prisoner exchange with Tehran." Via New Yorker/AP/State Dept.

Last week the Iranians claimed that a major prisoner swap with the US was in the works, but the fact that Tehran is now so publicly crying foul suggest the deal could be stalled or even dead. 

Crucially it comes as both sides are wary of how their detained citizens are faring amidst the coronavirus pandemic severely impacting both countries, especially prison systems. "We are worried about the safety and health of Iranians in jail... We hold America responsible for Iranians' safety amid the new coronavirus outbreak," Rabiei said further, referencing the fact that the US is the global epicenter.

Reuters describes one important US prisoner held in Iran as possibly central to the deal:

Three Iranian officials told Reuters last week that a prisoner swap between the two countries was in the works. Michael White, a U.S. navy veteran who has been detained in Iran since 2018, is a likely candidate to be swapped. He was released from prison in mid-March on medical furlough but remains in Iran.

“Washington is aware of our readiness and we think there is no need for a third country to mediate between Tehran and Washington for the prisoner exchange,” Rabiei added as part his Sunday statement.

Rabiei continued: “However, if the American side agrees, the interest section of Iran in Washington will inform the U.S. of our views on the details, including how and when the exchange will take place.”

The two sides did swap high profile prisoners last December, with the US securing the return of American graduate student Xiyue Wang, in Iranian prison from 2016 to 2019 after he was accused of espionage.