Iran's foreign ministry said Monday it has sent the United States a list of names it is demanding in a proposed prisoner swap, opening a potential new channel with Washington amid recent growing tensions.
Iran did not detail the names it relayed, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he hoped to hear soon "good news" about the release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani. U.S. federal authorities arrested Soleimani last year on charges that he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. Zarif said he raised the issue last month in his visit to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the Islamic Republic has relayed which Iranians should be included in the suggested swap with the United States and other Western nations. Iran holds several American nationals and did not detail whom it would consider freeing.
"We have handed over a list of names (to the United States) who must be freed," Mousavi said, in a briefing with reporters. "We hope that these efforts, if paired with good will, would pay off soon and we would see freedom of Dr. Soleimani and other Iranians from the Americans' captivity."
Iran contends Soleimani and others were detained over what they called "baseless" accusations of bypassing unilateral American sanctions on Iran. It's not clear how many other Iranians the U.S has detained, and there was no immediate American reaction.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have steadily escalated since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal last May and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Prosecutors in Atlanta got an indictment the following month against Soleimani, who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine. U.S. officials revoked his visa and arrested him in October when he landed in Chicago.
The U.S. blames Iran for a series of mysterious oil tanker attacks this year and alleges it carried out last month's attack on the world's largest oil processor in Saudi Arabia, which caused oil prices to spike by the biggest percentage since the 1991 Gulf War.