Iran sends US list of names for its proposed prisoner swap

A prisoner swap could offer a breakthrough following a pair of conciliatory moves. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Iran sends US list of names for its proposed prisoner swap

  • Iran has relayed which Iranians should be included in the suggested swap with the United States and other Western nations
  • Iran holds several American nationals and did not detail whom it would consider freeing

TEHRAN: Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday it has sent the United States a list of names it is demanding in a proposed prisoner swap, opening a potential new channel with Washington amid recent growing tensions.

Iran did not detail the names it relayed, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he hoped to hear soon “good news” about the release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani. US federal authorities arrested Soleimani last year on charges that he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. Zarif said he raised the issue last month in his visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the Islamic Republic has relayed which Iranians should be included in the suggested swap with the United States and other Western nations. Iran holds several American nationals and did not detail whom it would consider freeing.

“We have handed over a list of names (to the United States) who must be freed,” Mousavi said, in a briefing with reporters. “We hope that these efforts, if paired with good will, would pay off soon and we would see freedom of Dr. Soleimani and other Iranians from the Americans’ captivity.”

Iran contends Soleimani and others were detained over what they called “baseless” accusations of bypassing unilateral American sanctions on Iran. It’s not clear how many other Iranians the US has detained, and there was no immediate American reaction.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have steadily escalated since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal last May and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Prosecutors in Atlanta got an indictment the following month against Soleimani, who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine. US officials revoked his visa and arrested him in October when he landed in Chicago.

The US blames Iran for a series of mysterious oil tanker attacks this year and alleges it carried out last month’s attack on the world’s largest oil processor in Saudi Arabia, which caused oil prices to spike by the biggest percentage since the 1991 Gulf War.

Iran denies the accusations and has warned any retaliatory attack targeting it will result in an “all-out war,” as it has begun enriching uranium beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal. Iran also shot down a US military surveillance drone and seized oil tankers.

A prisoner swap could offer a breakthrough following a pair of conciliatory moves.

A month ago, the US deported Iranian Negar Ghodskani who was brought to the US to face criminal conspiracy charges. She was sentenced to time served for conspiracy to illegally export restricted technology from the US to Iran.

In June, Iran released Nizar Zakka, a US permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the US government. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges and was freed after serving less than four years.

However, in May, Iran sentenced former US Navy cook Michael R. White from Imperial Beach, California, to 10 years in prison in Iran, becoming the first American known to be imprisoned there since Trump took office.

Three other American citizens are known to be held in Iran, though Iran does not recognize their dual nationality

Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his octogenarian father Baquer, a former representative for the UN children’s agency UNICEF who served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the US-backed shah, are both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges.

Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively.

Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly “infiltrating” the country while doing doctoral research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty.

Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail in 2017 after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for “collaboration with a hostile government.” Shahini has since returned to America and is now suing Iran in US federal court.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, though his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.

Others held with Western ties include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling with her young daughter. Her daughter left Iran for Britain last week.


US officials block police ‘extreme tactics’ as protests enter 12th day

Updated 50 min 13 sec ago

US officials block police ‘extreme tactics’ as protests enter 12th day

  • A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other ‘less-than-lethal’ devices
  • Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday

WASHINGTON: Officials across the United States are moving to rein in police following accusations of excessive force being used against demonstrators, with protests over the killing of a black man in custody set to enter their 12th day on Saturday.
George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has ordered that all flags at state facilities be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in honor of Floyd, who was originally from the state’s Fayetteville city.
On Friday, marches and gatherings took place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places, while protesters massed again, in the rain, in front of the White House. The night-time protests were largely peaceful but tension remains high even as authorities in several places take steps to reform police procedures.
A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other “less-than-lethal” devices such as flash grenades, with his ruling citing examples of protesters and journalists being injured by police.
“These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations,” US District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in the ruling.
In Minneapolis, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke-holds, where pressure is applied to the neck, while California Governor Gavin Newsom said he would end state police training of carotid restraints similar to the technique used on Floyd.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state should lead the way in passing “Say Their Name” reforms, including making police disciplinary records publicly available as well as banning choke-holds.
“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement. “People are saying enough is enough, we must change.”
Black Lives Matter activists have called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.

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In another sign of how attitudes have changed, National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video denouncing racism in the United States.
The NFL has been locked in a debate with players over kneeling protests during the playing of the national anthem.
Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday and placed under investigation after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground.
But the decision was met with pushback from the officers’ colleagues, with all 57 members of the police tactical unit quitting in protest at their treatment.
The demonstrations have erupted as the public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Disease experts have said the protests could spark new outbreaks.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has sparred with US President Donald Trump over his sometimes heavy-handed response to the rallies and marches in the nation’s capital, had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.
After nightfall, Bowser had light projections spelling out the words beamed onto nearby buildings, which she said on Twitter was a “night light” aimed at Trump.