After Swap, U.S.-Iran Comments on Future Deal

President Donald Trump urged Iranian leaders to negotiate a new nuclear deal before the November presidential election. “Don’t wait until after U.S. Election to make the Big deal. I’m going to win. You’ll make a better deal now!” Trump tweeted on June 4.  Iran had just released Navy veteran Michael White as part of a detainee swap – a rare instance of cooperation between Washington and Tehran. In turn, the United States freed an Iranian doctor, Majid Taheri. 


But Iranian leaders flatly rejected Trump’s offer to begin talks. In May 2018, the president withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major world powers. The Trump Administration then launched a “maximum pressure” campaign to pressure Tehran to negotiate a more expansive agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized Trump and his advisors for making a “dumb bet” by withdrawing from the 2015 deal.


The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said that “no talks will happen in the future.” He did not include any caveats.


The newly elected speaker of parliament, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, cited a Quran verse that cautions Muslims against acting fainthearted and making a compromise. “So do not weaken and call for peace while you are superior; and Allah is with you and will never deprive you of [the reward of] your deeds,” reads the translation of Sura Muhammad [47:35]. Qalibaf added, in Persian, “Do not fall short in the struggle and offer the infidels a compromise. You are higher because God is with you, and you can be sure that He will give the result of your deeds (resistance).” Qalibaf, a political hardliner and a former Revolutionary Guard, has vowed to expel U.S. troops from the Middle East.


Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of the Expediency Council – a powerful body that resolves constitutional disputes between the Parliament and the Guardian Council – also weighed in on Twitter. He said that Trump and the United States were in a “quagmire,” implying that Washington was not able to negotiate with Tehran. He added that even if the United States was not facing a difficult situation, negotiating would be like “poison.” 


Other Detainees

The United States had previously negotiated the release of Xiyue Wang in December 2019, a Princeton academic who had been conducting historical research in Iran. Wang was freed in exchange for Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist who had been arrested at a Chicago airport in 2019 for violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. 

After the swap involving White and Taheri concluded, the U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, called on Tehran to release three U.S. citizens who remained in custody – Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz. “While we are pleased that Iran was constructive in the last two negotiations, there’s still more work to do,” Hook told reporters during a briefing on June 5. The following are profiles of the Namazis and Tahbaz. 


Baquer Namazi

Baquer Namazi was reportedly arrested on February 22, 2016, four months after his son Siamak was detained. The elder Namazi, age 80 at the time of his arrest, is a former provincial governor and UNICEF representative who worked in several countries, including Kenya, Somalia and Egypt. His work largely focused on aid for women and children affected by war. Baquer Namazi most recently ran Hamyaran, an umbrella organization of a number of different Iranian NGOs. On October 18, 2016, he was sentenced to 10 years for allegedly cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on Iran.

On January 15, 2018, Baquer was rushed to the hospital after a severe drop in blood pressure and irregular heartbreak. He was granted a four-day medical leave beginning on January 28. He was told to report to the government’s medical examiner on February 4, and that his leave would be extended until then. The examiner recommended a three-month leave on medical grounds. But on February 6, 2018, Namazi received a call ordering him to return to Evin Prison.

On August 28, 2018, the Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that Namazi had been released on medical furlough “for a considerable length of time” due to complications from his heart condition. He has to report back to Evin Prison weekly and is unable to leave the country to undergo heart surgery, according to his family. 

Baquer Namazi's former empoyer @UNICEF highlights his case. He remains in detention #Iran

— IranWire (@IranWire1) March 6, 2016


Siamak Namazi

Dubai-based businessman Siamak Namazi was arrested in October 2015. On July 11, 2016, Tehran’s prosecutor announced that Namazi had been indicted but did not specify the charges. On October 18, 2016, after being tried without access to a lawyer, Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for collaborating with a foreign government.

On October 17, 2016, the Mizan news agency, the judiciary news service, posted a video that appeared to show Namazi in the hours immediately following his arrest. The short clip was an anti-American montage that showed images of a captured American surveillance drone, Jason Rezaian (a dual-national journalist who was accused of spying for the United States), U.S. sailors kneeling before being detained by Iranian forces and more.

Five other defendants were also convicted and given similar sentences, including Siamak Namazi’s father Baquer. On August 26, 2018 the Tehran Appeals Court denied the appeals of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, upholding their convictions of collaborating with the U.S. government. The family's U.S.-based lawyer Jared Genser condemned the move as a “cruel and unjust decision” of the court. Namazi and his father were being held in Evin Prison as of 2019.

Clip shows detention moment of American-Iranian Siamak Namazi in Iran

— Sobhan Hassanvand (@Hassanvand) October 16, 2016


Morad Tahbaz

On January 24, 2018, the Revolutionary Guards intelligence organization detained Morad Tahbaz, a dual American-Iranian citizen, and eight other environmental activists accused of espionage. Their trial began on in January 2019 but was delayed until the beginning of August. On November 20, 2019, an Iranian court sentenced Tahbaz to ten years in prison. 

The activists were members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation conducting research on Iran’s endangered cheetah population. On October 24, 2018, the judiciary charged Tahbaz with “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.” One of the four charges against him included “sowing corruption on earth,” which typically carries the death penalty. But on October 14, 2019, Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmail said the capital charge had been dropped. The activists still faced charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “contacts with U.S. enemy government … for the purpose of spying,” according to the judiciary.

Tahbaz reportedly has cancer and his health has continued to deteriorate because he has not received medication and treatment for more than a year.

Morad Tahbaz is one of at least nine environmental activists detained in Iran as security forces worked to quash an unexpectedly broad protest movement

— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 13, 2018