An Iranian diplomat said Tuesday that Tehran has no plans to swap detained Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian for prisoners held in the United States, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
This marks the first time a high-level official has alluded to the possibility of such a trade.
Rezaian awaits a verdict in his closed-door espionage trial in a case widely criticized by the United States, press freedom organizations and the Post. He reportedly faces up to 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The semi-official Tasnim and Fars news agencies quoted Hassan Qashqavi, Iran's deputy foreign minister in charge of legal and consular affairs, as saying, "An exchange of Jason Rezaian is not on the agenda. Each of the issues has their own separate case."
Fars quoted Qashqavi as saying the U.S. held 19 Iranian prisoners on "sanctions-related charges, or as the Americans define them: political prisoners." He said another 60 Iranians are held for "ordinary crimes."
"The 19 prisoners in U.S. jails are innocent people under sanctions charges and we hope conditions for their freedom are realized soon," Qashqavi said after receiving a journalist's question at a funeral, the agencies reported, according to AP.
Rezaian's defense attorney, Leila Ahsan, told The Associated Press that the idea of a swap never came up during hearings.
The Post had no immediate comment on Qashqavi's remarks.
Rezaian, 39, was born and spent most of his life in the United States, and holds American and Iranian citizenship. Iran does not recognize dual nationalities for its citizens.
His trial is being held in the Revolutionary Court, which typically hears cases involving national security and other sensitive issues.
Rezaian, Salehi, and two photojournalists were detained on July 22, 2014, in Tehran. All were later released except Rezaian, who according to thePost faces up to 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted on charges that include espionage and distributing propaganda against the Islamic Republic.
AP noted that prisoner swaps have happened before. Iran in 2009 under then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad named 11 Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. it wanted released, some of whom were freed around the same time Iran released three American hikers.
But Iran under current President Hassan Rouhani has not made any similar demands amid negotiations with world powers over its contested nuclear program.
Another American being held in Iran is dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Amir Hekmati, who was arrested in 2011, put on trial and found guilty of spying for the CIA. Hekmati’s family and the U.S. government say the dual U.S.-Iranian citizen is not a spy and went to Iran to visit his grandmother.
He was subsequently sentenced to death, a penalty that was later overturned and reduced to 10 years in prison.
During the nuclear negotiations, American diplomats say they raised the detention of Rezaian, of Hekmati and a third American – Christian pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho. They say they also asked for the Iranian government's assistance in finding former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission.