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Iran Foreign Minister Proposes Prisoner Swap With U.S.


For the last year, the U.S. and Iran have been on a collision course. The Trump administration has been imposing more and more sanctions. Iran says it won't bow to pressure and bullying. Well, today, Iran's foreign minister suggested some things that the two sides should be talking about, including a possible prisoner exchange. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Just this week, the Trump administration turned up the pressure on Iran further, warning countries around the world that they will face sanctions if they continue to import oil from Iran. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, denounced what he calls this policy of coercion and said he thinks Iran will still find buyers.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: But if the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that, then it should be prepared for the consequences.

KELEMEN: Zarif didn't elaborate as he addressed an audience at the Asia Society in New York. He accuses the Trump administration of being dangerously obsessed with Iran and says the sanctions will hurt the Iranian people but won't bring Iran to its knees.


ZARIF: We're allergic to pressure. Don't put pressure on him. Try the language of respect.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has laid out a long list of concerns about Iran's behavior. Here's how he put it Monday when he was announcing the latest moves on sanctions.


MIKE POMPEO: We've made our demands very clear to the Ayatollah and his cronies. End your pursuit of nuclear weapons. Stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles. Stop sponsoring and committing terrorism. Halt the arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens. Our pressure is aimed at fulfilling these demands and others. And it will continue to accelerate until Iran is willing to address them at the negotiating table.

KELEMEN: Iran's foreign minister says it was the Americans who walked away from the negotiating table when they pulled out of the deal to limit Iran's nuclear program last year. Zarif says he's been waiting six months for an answer to Iran's offer of a prisoner swap - Americans held in Iran in exchange for Iranians held in the U.S. and Europe.


ZARIF: And I put this offer on the table publicly now. Exchange them. All these people that are in prison inside the United States on extradition request from the United States, we believe their charges are phony. The United States believes the charges against these people in Iran are phony. Fine. Let's not discuss that. Let's have an exchange.

KELEMEN: The State Department says Iran can show it is serious by releasing innocent U.S. citizens immediately. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.