The Biden administration is working to secure the release of several Americans wrongfully detained in Iran but called Iranian reports over the weekend that a hostage agreement had been reached an "especially cruel lie."
"Claims by Iranian officials that we have reached a deal for the release of the U.S. citizens wrongfully held by Iran are false," a White House National Security Council spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon on Monday. State Department spokesman Ned Price added in a statement provided to the Free Beacon that reports of a "deal regarding the exchange of prisoners has been reached are another especially cruel lie that only adds to the suffering of their families."
The administration acknowledged that negotiations over these hostages are ongoing, though officials would not provide a firm status update. When asked about the diplomatic contours of a potential deal, a State Department official declined, telling the Free Beacon, "We will not go into the details of any diplomatic efforts underway; as you can imagine, such discussions are sensitive and highly consequential for the U.S. citizens who have been wrongfully detained."
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian fanned the flames over a potential deal during the weekend, when he claimed the United States and Tehran are close to inking a "prisoner swap" that could give Iran access to some $7 billion in currently frozen funds. The Obama administration struck a similar deal in 2015 that saw Iran receive $400 million in hard cash as part of a $1.7 billion total payment. Much of that money was spent bolstering Iran’s military.
The White House National Security Council accused Iran’s foreign minister of peddling falsehoods.
"Unfortunately, Iranian officials will not hesitate to make things up, and the latest cruel claim will cause more heartache for the families of Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz," the official said. "We call on Iran to release our citizens without delay."
Iran’s claims gained steam following the State Department’s announcement on Sunday that Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will be in Qatar from Monday through Wednesday of this week to "engage with government representatives and stakeholders on matters related to the resolution of wrongful detention and hostage cases worldwide."
Rumors of a deal are generating concerns the Biden administration will agree to unfreeze around $7 billion in Iranian assets as part of the prisoner swap.
"If $1.7 billion encouraged the regime to take additional hostages, $7 billion will guarantee much more hostage-taking to come," the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank said in a Monday analysis on the rumored deal.
Richard Goldberg, former director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction at the White House National Security Council, cautioned against giving in to Iran’s demands for cash.
"Washington should not be using frozen funds tied to terrorism to provide budget support to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism as it plots terror attacks against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil," Goldberg said in a statement. "Rather, the United States should put maximum pressure on Iran until all U.S. hostages are released."