Iran nuclear deal unlikely without release of U.S. prisoners: envoy

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. (Reuters)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The United States is unlikely to strike a deal with Iran to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal unless Tehran releases four U.S. citizens, Reuters cited the lead U.S. nuclear negotiator as saying on Sunday.

U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said in an interview with Reuters that release of the four people was a precondition for a nuclear agreement.

“They’re separate and we’re pursuing both of them. But I will say it is very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

“So even as we’re conducting talks with Iran indirectly on the nuclear file we are conducting, again indirectly, discussions with them to ensure the release of our hostages,” he added.

Iran is currently in talks in Vienna with world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally left in 2018.

Separately, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh ruled out any U.S. preconditions for reviving the deal, including the release of American prisoners.

“Iran has never accepted any preconditions by the United States… The U.S. official’s comments on the release of U.S. prisoners in Iran is for domestic use,” he told a weekly news conference, according to Reuters.

In recent years, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on espionage and security-related charges.

Rights groups have accused Iran of taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage, while Western powers have long demanded that Tehran free their citizens, who they are political prisoners.

Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.

The four U.S. citizens include Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, both of whom have convicted of “collaboration with a hostile government,” Reuters reported.

The others are environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, who is also British, and businessman Emad Shargi, 57.

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