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US hopeful for Iran prisoner talks, but imposes new sanctions

By AFP

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Iran Air and Mahan Air passenger planes sit on the tarmac of the domestic Mehrabad airport in Tehran in this file photo from January 15th, 2013. [Behrouz Mehri/AFP] 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday (December 11th) he hoped for further dialogue with Iran to free prisoners but announced new sanctions as he vowed no let-up in pressure.

Iran also has voiced a willingness for more prisoner swaps after the exchange Saturday of Xiyue Wang, a US scholar detained since 2016, for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist detained in the US since last year.

"I do hope that the exchange that took place will lead to a broader discussion on consular affairs. We still have Americans held in Iran -- too many, for sure," Pompeo said.

Pompeo said the US will "follow every even tiny opening" to free the at least handful of US citizens known to be in Iranian custody.

"I hope it portends well for this. We have had some indication that may be the case, but I do not want to overstate that and I do not want to give false optimism about that pathway," Pompeo said.

'Maximum pressure' continues

Pompeo, however, said the US would not deviate from its campaign of sanctions aimed at curbing the regional interference of the Iranian regime.

"As long as its malign behavior continues, so will our campaign of maximum pressure," Pompeo said.

In the latest measures, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on shipping networks owned by Iranian businessman Abdolhossein Khedri.

The Treasury said the companies have been used by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-QF) to send weapons to Yemen's Houthis (Ansarallah), who are battling the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.

The Treasury also designated sales offices in Hong Kong and Dubai for Iran's Mahan Air, which is already under US sanctions.

The US says that the airline has assisted the Iranian regime by flying fighters and supplies to war-ravaged Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad.

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