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.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed 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.
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.
"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."
“About 20 Iranians have been detained on the baseless charge of circumventing US sanctions, which we consider illegal.
Iran contends Soleimani and others were detained over "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 reimposed 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.
A prisoner swap could offer a breakthrough following a pair of conciliatory moves.
A month ago, the US deported Iranian Negar Qodskani 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.
Several other American citizens are known to be held in Iran, though Iran does not recognize their dual nationality.
Military posts in Syria
Also in his briefing, Mousavi said Iran rejects Turkey’s establishing of military posts inside Syria, adding that the Syrian integrity should be respected.
“We are against Ankara’s establishing of military posts in Syria ... The issues should be resolved by diplomatic means,” Mousavi said.
"The Turks can have bases on their own side of the border but establishing bases on Syrian soil is unacceptable and amounts to violating [the sovereignty] of a member of the United Nations," he added.
Mousavi said Turkey's security concerns, while legitimate, should be resolved amicably.
"Syria's sovereignty and integrity must be respected by all countries of the region," he said, noting there were already various mechanisms and agreements in place that could be used to address Turkey's concerns.
He said Iran was ready to engage Syrian Kurds, Syria's government as well as Turkey in order to bring them closer.
On Thursday, Turkey agreed in talks with US Vice President Mike Pence to a five-day pause in an offensive into northeastern Syria, to allow time for the Kurdish militiamen to withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara aims to establish near its border with Syria.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Ankara would press on with its offensive into northeastern Syria and “crush the heads of terrorists” if a deal with Washington on the withdrawal of Kurdish militia from the area was not fully implemented.
AP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.