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Blinken: Iran prisoner swap ‘separate track’ from engagement with Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo by Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo by Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an “emotional conversation” with seven Americans who had left Iran and were in Doha en route to the United States, he told reporters on Monday.

“It’s easy in the work that we do every day sometimes to get lost in the abstractions of foreign policy and relations with other countries, and forgetting the human element that’s at the heart of everything we do,” Blinken told journalists at the Palace Hotel in New York City.

“But today, their freedom—the freedom of these Americans for so long unjustly imprisoned and detained in Iran—means some pretty basic things,” he added. “It means that husbands and wives, fathers and children, grandparents can hug each other again, can see each other again, can be with each other again. So it’s a day that I’m grateful for.”

The Biden administration has been sharply criticized for releasing $6 billion to Iran in exchange for the seven Americans, who were either imprisoned on false charges or barred from leaving the country.

The administration has said that the monies will not be available to Iran for nefarious purposes, but Iranian officials have suggested otherwise, and critics have said that the funding will support terrorism from a regime that regularly declares death to Israel and to America.

Blinken was asked if the “successful detainee swap” is likely to lead to “any indirect talks with the Iranians this week, any time soon?”

“This process and the engagements necessary to bring it about, the freedom of these unjustly detained Americans, has always been a separate track in our engagement or, for that matter, lack of engagement, with Iran,” Blinken said. 

“Irrespective of what was happening or not happening, for example, in pursuing the effort to return to the nuclear agreement, we’ve been focused on working independently to bring these Americans home,” he said.

Blinken added that Washington remains “determined to take whatever step is necessary to deal with actions by Iran in a whole host of areas that are profoundly objectionable and that many other countries find objectionable.” And it continues to believe that diplomacy is the best way to address Iran’s nuclear program.

“In this moment, we’re not engaged on that, but we’ll see in the future if there are opportunities,” he said. “President Biden has also been very clear that one way or another, he’s committed to ensuring that Iran never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

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