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Iran says Americans hoping to swap detainees for Washington Post reporter jailed for alleged spying

Reuters

Unnamed Americans have contacted Iran for a deal to swap Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, convicted and jailed in Iran on spying charges, for other unspecified detainees, according to a senior Iranian official quoted on Sunday.

“Some Americans contact us sometimes, asking us to exchange him with other detainees, but the sentence has not been announced yet,” said judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency.

Ejei did not specify which detainees could be under consideration nor give any other details of what the Americans could have in mind for a swap with Rezaian.

But Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani has hinted at the possibility that Rezaian could be freed in exchange for Iranian prisoners in the United States. Other Iranian officials have played down the possibility of such a swap.

In Washington, a senior White House official, asked for comment, said: “We’re not going to comment on every public remark by Iranian officials concerning our detained and missing citizens. We continue to make all efforts to bring our citizens home.”

Iranian officials have repeatedly said that Rezaian, a California-born Iranian-American, has been convicted but they have declined to announce the sentence. Rezaian was arrested in July 2014 and accused of espionage.

The case has been a sensitive issue for Washington and Iran, and Ejei’s statement on Sunday did little to resolve it.

Iran has accused Rezaian, 39, of collecting confidential information and giving it to hostile governments, writing a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and acting against national security. The Post has dismissed the charges as absurd. The final hearing in his trial was on Aug. 10.

Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl has said the vague nature of an earlier announcement by Iran showed that Rezaian’s case was not just about espionage but that the reporter was a bargaining chip in a “larger game.”

Four other U.S. citizens — Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, American-Lebanese IT expert Nizar Zakka and U.S.-Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi — are also believed to be held in Iran. Robert Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared there in 2007.

Some of these cases have been raised in subsequent talks, including those between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when they met during the U.N. General Assembly in New York last month. No progress was announced.