Alireza Zakani, a member of the Iranian Majles from 2004 to 2016, said in a May 14, 2019 interview on Ofogh TV (Iran) that during the JCPOA negotiations, Iran also negotiated the issue of its frozen Iranian assets that had been held by the United States. Zakani said that Iran had told the U.S. that a prisoner exchange had not been sufficient and demanded to get its frozen funds with "reasonable interest." He said that the U.S. agreed and delivered $1.7 billion in four payments - the first of which had been a payment of $400 million in cash in a suitcase. He criticized the Iranian negotiations team as "weak" and said that Abbas Araghchi's had been a "disaster" when he arrived at the Majles. Zakani added that the nuclear issue was the least valuable of all the issues that were being negotiated with the Americans, which he said included terrorism, regional affairs, defense, security, human rights, and financial assets.
Following are excerpts:
Alireza Zakani: Ultimately, we would have come to an understanding [in the nuclear negotiations], but it would have been different than the JCPOA.
At the same time that the JCPOA was being dealt with by the government's honorable [negotiations] team, we negotiated with the Americans regarding $400 million in Case B1, which has to do with [Iran's frozen assets] from the days of the Shah. $400 million of ours that the Americans did not give… What was negotiated? The American spies, including [Iranian-American journalist] Jason Rezaian. We released four spies, and [in exchange] seven people were released from American prison, for starters. It was agreed that seven more would be released at the beginning of the year. Fourteen others were removed from the blacklist. [It was] a total of 28 people. We said this was too little, and it really was. They asked us what we wanted, and we said we want our $400 million which [America] must return with reasonable interest. [Ultimately,] we received $1.7 billion in four parts. They brought us the first part - $400 million –in a suitcase.
We said that it still was not enough, and they asked what more we wanted. We said that Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International PLC must be removed from the blacklist. The U.N. Security Council was about to end its session, so the Americans had [all the delegates] sign [the papers] for us one after another. The issue that Trump often slammed Obama for and said he gave Iran money – it was about this $1.7 billion, when we were under the pressure of the sanctions. They gave us cash money.
We knew from the beginning that the [Iranian] negotiations team was weak. But could we do anything? No.
Interviewer: The government got the votes in the elections…
Alireza Zakani: Right. The government got the votes and formed its team. It was totally clear. The fact that the team was weak and its level of expertise… at the time that some of them came to the Majles, their level of knowledge was a disaster.
Interviewer: Who, for example?
Alireza Zakani: Araghchi. He was a disaster.
The Americans placed four issues on the table. The nuclear case, the regional and terrorism case, the defense and security case, and the case of human rights and all our assets. These four cases were open. The case that could have brought about a global consensus against us, like it did in 2003, was the nuclear case. Not the regional case, the defense case, or the human rights case – none of these has a global consensus against us.
[For us,] the nuclear case was worth the least of the four cases. Not that the nuclear case was completely worthless…
Interviewer: Compared to the others…
Alireza Zakani: Compared to the region and the resistance, compared to internal [affairs] and defense, and compared to human rights and our identity – this case was the least valuable.