Iran’s release of a Lebanese businessman with U.S. permanent residency two days before the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman was meant as a “goodwill gesture” in hopes to open up talks with the U.S., three Western sources told Reuters exclusively.
The gesture, however, fell flat with Washington, the report said.
A State Department official told Reuters that if Iran wanted to reduce tension and engage with the U.S., it should have released one of the “innocent American citizens” it is currently holding hostage. That “humanitarian” gesture would have yielded better results, the official said.
Iran released Nizar Zakka, a Washington-based information technology expert, on June 11, four years after he was arrested. His company, IJMA3, is funded by private organizations and governments, including the United States.
Zakka’s release was, therefore, a “missed opportunity,” one source told Reuters. “We should have explored whether there was something there.” Another source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Iran released Zakka as a way to deescalate tensions “from their side” and expected the U.S. to reciprocate in some way.
In the month since his release, tensions between Iran and the West have continued to escalate. Iran downed a U.S. drone, the U.S. upped sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader. British forces recently captured an Iranian supertanker headed for Syria.