London, 2 August – While campaigning for the American presidency, Donald Trump made a bold pledge on Iran’s prisoner taking, “This doesn’t happen if I’m president!”
Still, over a year into his presidency, Iran holds at least five U.S. citizens and permanent residents’ prisoner, including one taken during Trump’s tenure.
Although the White House declined to comment, the State Department claimed that the United States works “tirelessly” to free Americans held in Iran.
Regarding the practice of paying ransoms for the release of U.S. citizens, National Security Advisor John Bolton previously asked an important question, “Are we simply incentivizing Iran to take further hostages?” Bolton is now a central figure in deciding what concessions, if any, Washington will grant Iran in any prisoner exchanges.
However, regarding a “prisoner swap”, despite Trump’s rhetoric toward Iran, the two countries have considered the possibility of an another one, according to a U.S. official. Reuters reported that there are 22 Iranian citizens held in the United States or abroad that it wants freed. But after a series of d diplomatic snubs, the Trump administration has taken on the approach of pressuring Iran, and has been considering revoking the U.S. visas of family members of Iranian political elites.
In May, when Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, he took a step that shattered hopes for the U.S. citizens in Iranian captivity. Trump’s justification for decertifying the pact was that it had done nothing to stop Iran’s support for militant groups or involvement in conflicts across the Middle East.
On Monday, Trump said he would meet with Iran’s leaders “anytime they want” without preconditions. Senior Iranian officials rejected the offer, citing U.S. sanctions on Iran.
It is alleged that an Iranian proposal to the United States to resolve the prisoner crisis went unanswered several months earlier. Now, with the United States having abandoned the nuclear pact, any negotiations over prisoners seems to be impossible.
Trump did not appoint anyone to the highest ranking post charged with winning the release of Americans imprisoned overseas, during his first 16 months in office. He instead left the position to be filled on an acting basis by a career diplomat with little direct connection to the White House.
The frequent personnel shift at the Trump White House and State Department leave family members confused over who they must meet with, and most recently, the United States and Iran have failed to show any interest in discussing the prisoners.