U.S.-Iran prisoner swap could lead to nuclear talks, analysts say

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DUBAI — Faced with crippling sanctions at dwelling and eyeing upcoming U.S. elections, Iran agreed to a prisoner swap that freed 5 Americans, 5 Iranians and granted Tehran entry to $6 billion of its reserves frozen overseas Monday.

After years of escalating tensions with the United States, Iran might have seen Monday’s prisoner swap as a final likelihood to safe entry — albeit restricted — to funds at a time when the nation’s financial system is sputtering after years of worldwide sanctions and financial mismanagement, in accordance to analysts.

There can also be hope that these small steps could lead to dialogue of extra substantive points akin to a return to the nuclear deal — although that could be hampered by uncertainty of what kind of management might be working the United States after the elections.

U.S. and Iran commerce prisoners, signaling partial thaw in relations

“The Iranians seem reluctant to give away most of their leverage to restore the nuclear deal not knowing who the next U.S. president will be,” mentioned Ali Vaez, the Iran challenge director for the International Crisis Group. “Nobody really wants a deal, but they’re still going to talk about it.”

The Biden administration has pledged to revive a nuclear settlement with Iran, but when a Republican wins the 2024 presidential election, Iran coverage will possible expertise a dramatic shift, as occurred when Donald Trump took workplace and withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

After asserting the swap, Iranian leaders characterised the negotiations as proof Washington capitulating to their calls for. The settlement “could have happened long ago if the American side cooperated and did not relate [the swap] to other issues,” mentioned Nasser Kanaani, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman.

He additionally mentioned the $6 billion in Iranian funds arrived in Qatar on Monday and the “assets will be available to the government and the nation.” Iran has mentioned it should have full discretion over the cash’s use, whereas U.S. Treasury describes it has a fastidiously monitored humanitarian channel supporting the “Iranian people’s access to food, agricultural goods, medicine, and medical devices under strict due diligence measures.”

The willingness of the 2 nations to agree on Monday’s swap exhibits Washington and Tehran have determined the escalating tensions between the 2 nations received’t serve both aspect, analysts and officers say. But that understanding is fragile and could simply collapse.

A detainee deal was “the lowest hanging fruit” of points the 2 sides could agree on, mentioned Vaez. The United States and Iran “have not resolved anything, they’ve just agreed to keep a lid on their differences.”

Successfully finishing up the prisoner swap “ensures the sustainability” of present U.S.-Iran relations, stopping tensions from spiraling uncontrolled, quite than establishing a brand new dynamic, he mentioned.

The settlement that facilitated the swap doesn’t handle points past the prisoner alternate, the switch of Iranian funds and the way the funds might be monitored. But the months of talks that led up to the deal could pave the way in which for future negotiations.

“We see this as building trust between the two sides,” mentioned an official aware of the negotiations who, like others on this report, spoke on the situation of anonymity to talk about delicate diplomatic exchanges.

Officials from the United States and Iran negotiated the phrases of the swap for greater than a yr after talks on a wider vary of points, together with nuclear agreements, got here to a “standstill” in June 2022, in accordance to a person with shut information of the talks. Qatar hosted the talks and its diplomats shuttled between the 2 events.

“Representatives from the United States and Iran stayed at two separate hotels in Doha with no direct interactions or face-to-face contact,” the person mentioned.

Who are the U.S. residents concerned within the prisoner swap with Iran?

Qatar grew to become a key mediator within the deal, and its international minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani not too long ago mentioned the swap is “a step” he hopes “will lead to wider dialogue on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Domestic politics in the two nations, however, have long bedeviled attempts at drawing closer and frustrated both sides as they have sought to find common ground on the comparatively simpler matter of a prisoner swap — much less renegotiating a nuclear deal.

Jared Genser, a lawyer for the family of Siamak Namazi, the Iranian American who had been held in Tehran for nearly eight years, called it a “terrible dance.”

“There are times the U.S. was trying to sit down with Iran and Iran was moving in the other direction, or times when Iran wanted to sit down with the United States, but the U.S. was moving in another direction,” he mentioned, describing how political willingness to have interaction has ebbed and flowed on each side over the course of three administrations in Washington.

“To get them to move together at the same time is very very hard to do,” he mentioned.

Iranian media with shut hyperlinks to the nation’s hard-liners portrayed the prisoner swap as an try by a weakened President Biden attempting to distract consideration from low ballot numbers forward of the elections, quite than some form of hopeful breakthrough in relations.

The way forward for U.S.-Iran relations stays fragile shifting ahead.

Eric Brewer, with the Nuclear Threat Initiative assume tank and a former U.S. intelligence official who labored on nuclear nonproliferation, mentioned he believes the swap alerts a “tentative” de-escalation, however warns there may be “always the risk that it collapses.”

Many of the components which have prompted talks on nuclear points to come to a standstill lately, stay, he mentioned.

“Even if we get back to that point, we still have to solve all those problems,” he mentioned, like Iranian army assist for Russia and brutal repression of protest actions. “And we’ve also probably got some new problems that have emerged since.”

So over time reaching a deal could develop into tougher.

“With sanctions enforcement easing and Iran having success at mending fences in the region and a stronger partnership with Russian and China,” he mentioned, “then Iran might believe that it can keep its advanced nuclear program at an acceptable cost.”

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