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Top U.S., U.K. Diplomats Play Down Talk Of Deals With Iran On Prisoner Swaps

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U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pose for a photo ahead of their bilateral meeting in London on May 3.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have discussed issues related to Iran ahead of the start of a G7 ministers meeting in London but continued to downplay rumors swirling of imminent prisoner swaps with Tehran.

The United Kingdom currently chairs the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrial countries and is involved in ongoing multilateral efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement that curbed Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Both Washington and London have dismissed or downplayed disputed reports from Iran of deals for prisoner swaps and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in assets.

Both Washington and London have nevertheless acknowledged their ongoing efforts to seek the release of nationals held in Iran, but avoided linking them to other issues.

"I am determined to bring every detained American home," Blinken said alongside Raab in London after describing reports of a deal on a prisoner swap as "not accurate."

Iran is known to be holding at least four Americans: father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, and entrepreneur Emad Shargi.

The British Foreign Office downplayed Iranian reports on May 2 that a deal had been reached to exchange disputed assets for the release of dual British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in Iran since 2016.

British officials on May 3 suggested the leaked reports were "disinformation" and sought to avoid linking a 400 million-pound ($550 million) historical debt to prerevolutionary Iran to Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case.

"It's incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who are held arbitrarily and, in our view, unlawfully, and the reports, I'm afraid, are not yet accurate in terms of the suggestion of her imminent release," Raab said on May 3.

The U.S. State Department on May 2 rejected as "not true" unsourced Iranian reports claiming a deal on a prisoner swap and $7 billion in frozen Iranian assets had been agreed.

The Iranian reports suggested Iranian nationals jailed in the United States might also be part of a deal.

The Guardian newspaper quoted "sources inside" Tehran's Evin prison as saying two dual Iranian-American prisoners had been moved to a new location inside the facility where past inmates were put prior to release. But that information could not immediately be confirmed.

The UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany wrapped up a third round of high-level talks on May 1 focused on bringing the United States and Iran back into full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that President Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018.

Prisoner swaps were a feature of the JCPOA nearly six years ago.

With reporting by AP and BBC
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