Iran on Monday acknowledged that the fate of detained Iranian-American dual nationals came up during its first face-to-face meeting with the Trump administration, with an official saying there have been "positive results" for prisoner trades in the past.
The comments by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi mark the first official government confirmation it discussed prisoners with the U.S. at a recent meeting in Vienna over the nuclear deal.
While falling far short of signaling any sort of movement on freeing those with Western ties held in Iran, Ghasemi's acknowledgement fits the pattern of past prisoner negotiations with the Islamic Republic. It signals more behind-the-scene negotiations could be possible if the Trump administration, already skeptical of Iranian intentions, is willing to deal.
Speaking to journalists, Ghasemi mentioned no specific names of the inmates brought up by the Americans.
"In the past ... we had talks for humanitarian reasons with Americans over [swapping] some [American] prisoners with Iranian prisoners jailed in the U.S. and it had positive results too,'' he said.
Among the dual nationals held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi. They are serving 10-year prison sentences for "cooperating with the hostile American government" and their supporters had urged America to bring up their cases at the Vienna meeting.
Last week, State Department spokesman Mark Toner had said American officials at the meeting had "called on Iran to immediately release these U.S. citizens so they can be reunited with their families."
Dual nationals in detention have been used as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West. Under Iranian law, they are not entitled to consular support.
Other dual nationals known to be held in Iran include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman sentenced to five years in prison on allegations of planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government. Robin Shahini, an Iranian-American, had been serving an 18-year prison sentence for "collaboration with a hostile government," though he recently was released on bail.
Yet to be tried on various charges are Iranian-American art gallery manager Karan Vafadari, held along with his Iranian wife, and Iranian-Canadian national Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, who helped negotiate the nuclear deal for Iran.
Still missing is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission.