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Trump's White House made secret overtures to Iran over prisoners: report

This undated photograph released and made available by the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran shows Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssar.
Center for Human Rights in Iran via AP
The Wall Street Journal report said that the American approaches were rebuffed by Iran

Donald Trump’s White House made four secret approaches to Iran over recent months in an attempt to negotiate the release of US citizens held in the country’s prisons, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Iran is believed to be holding at least five US citizens in its prisons, and talk of a prisoner swap deal have previously emerged despite Trump’s increasingly hard line policy against Tehran.

Citing US officials people briefed on the issue, the Journal reported that an overture was first made in December and followed up on three occasions, but all four were rejected by Iran.

Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, a US citizen sentenced to ten years in prison on spying charges, told the paper that the State Department “said that they had opened the door and reached out to Iran several times but there is no response.”

The report also comes a day after the White House warned Iran that it will be held responsible for the ailing health of 81-year-old American citizen Baquer Namazi, who was recently sent back to prison after medical treatment.

Neither the White House nor State Department commented on the purported contacts.

Several Iranian citizens are serving court-mandated sentences in US jails.

In early 2016 Iran released five American prisoners in a surprise move that coincided with Washington unfreezing up to $100 billion worth of Iranian assets.

At the time, Trump lambasted the decision.

Former US President Barack Obama’s policy of tentative re-engagement with Iran -- underpinned by the 2015 nuclear deal -- has been aggressively wound back under Trump, who accuses the country of supporting terrorism and instability in the Middle East.

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