Iran released prisoner in outreach to US: report

Iran released prisoner in outreach to US: report
© ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian officials hoped to initiate talks with the Trump administration last month following the release of a prisoner with U.S. permanent residency but were rebuffed by U.S. officials who reportedly saw the gesture as insignificant, according to a report by Reuters.

Several sources told the news outlet that Iran's government had ordered the release of Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka in June with the hopes of restarting talks with the Trump administration concerning Iran's nuclear power program and sanctions relief.

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Those talks never occurred, with one U.S. official telling the news service that Zakka's release was a "missed opportunity" for the Trump administration to de-escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf.

“This was seen as a de-escalation step from their side, which obviously they expected to be somehow reciprocated from the American side,” a second source told Reuters, adding that the move was meant as a "goodwill gesture" by Iran.

A spokesman told Reuters that the State Department responded to reports of the Iranian government's desire for negotiations by saying Iran should release an "innocent American citizen” as a further method of proving sincerity.

“If Iran wants to reduce tensions and engage with the United States government, it should make a humanitarian gesture such as releasing one of the innocent American citizens it is holding hostage,” the spokesman said.

A senior administration official told the news service last week that the Trump administration was hopeful that more U.S. prisoners could be released if Iran is serious about de-escalating tensions between the two countries following a series of incidents that have drawn the U.S. and Iran close to war.

“We are encouraged by the news that Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka has been released by the Iranian regime and hope that this is a positive sign for Americans wrongfully detained in Iran,” the administration official said.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been rising for weeks following attacks on two oil tankers, which the U.S. blamed on Iranian forces, as well as the destruction of a U.S. spy drone that the White House has said was flying over international waters at the time it was shot down.

Iran has denied involvement in the tanker attack and has countered that the drone was shot down in Iranian airspace.

This article was updated at 10:45 a.m. on 7/12 to correctly refer to the Trump administration's position on prisoner releases.