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Iran's president suggests openness to prisoner swap

Iran's president suggests openness to prisoner swap
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Iran will consider releasing a handful of American prisoners in exchange for the release of Iranians held in the U.S., Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on CNN on Sunday, ahead of a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations this week. 

"If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well," Rouhani told the news channel.

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"There are a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned, who went to prison as a result of activities related to the nuclear industry in Iran," he added. "Once these sanctions have been lifted, why keep those folks in American prisons?

“So they must be free.”

Rouhani’s comments come as world governments are preparing to implement the nuclear deal with Iran and lift sanctions on its oil and financial sectors.

The imprisonment of the Americans has remained a touchy issue in the U.S. Multiple Americans critical of the pact have said that its silence on the prisoners leaves the U.S. in a weaker position.

Shortly after the agreement was signed this year, President Obama scolded a journalist who suggested he was “content” with leaving the Americans in prison.

“That’s nonsense and you should know better,” Obama said at the time. 

Three Americans are known to be held prisoner in Iran: Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former Marine Amir Hekmati. A fourth man, CIA contractor Robert Levinson, went missing eight years ago, and many suspect that Iran may hold the key to his whereabouts.

Iran has claimed that there are 19 Iranians held in the U.S. on unfounded charges related to the sanctions against Iran.

Obama administration officials have hoped that the breakthrough on the nuclear deal could lead to additional dialogue with Iran, such as on the prisoners or their approach to the ongoing civil war in Syria. 

Obama and Rouhani will both address the U.N. General Assembly later on Monday morning.