Iran is ready for more prisoner swaps with the United States, the Cabinet spokesman said Monday even as he reiterated the Iranian leadership's stance that there will be no other negotiations between Tehran and Washington.
The remarks by the spokesman, Ali Rabiei, were the first after a prisoner exchange over the weekend saw Iran free a Chinese-American scholar from Princeton who had been held for three years on widely criticized espionage charges.
The scholar, Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, was freed in exchange for Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani who had faced a federal trial in Georgia over charges he violated sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran.
"We are ready to cooperate to return all Iranians unlawfully imprisoned in the U.S.," Rabiei told reporters at a briefing in Tehran. He said however that there will be no other negotiations with the U.S. beside this issue.
Rabiei said any further negotiations would be possible through the so-called 5+1 framework — a reference to the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany — under the condition that the U.S. first lift sanctions on Iran.
Saturday's exchange was negotiated indirectly and took place in Switzerland, which looks after U.S. interests in Iran as Tehran and Washington have no diplomatic ties. The swap raised hopes of other similar actions and was seen as a rare diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions. But it was unclear if it would have any effect on Iranian-U.S. relations.
Crushing U.S. sanctions on Iran blocking it from selling crude oil abroad remain in place, part of President Donald Trump's maximum pressure campaign imposed following his unilateral withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers last year. Those sanctions in part fueled the anger seen in nationwide protests last month that Iranian security forces violently put down.
Amnesty International says that over 200 people were killed in the crackdown though Iran has offered no death toll or any other figures related to the unrest.
There are other Western detainees from the U.S. and elsewhere who remain held in Iran and who could be used as bargaining chips for future negotiations.
Others held in Iran include U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who is serving a 10-year espionage sentence, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian with U.S. and British citizenship also initially sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Also in Iran are 83-year-old Baquer Namazi and his son, Siamak Namazi, dual Iranian-American nationals facing 10-year sentences after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power. Baquer Namazi now is on a prison furlough. However, the Namazis say he remains unable to leave Iran.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
At least 26 people have been killed in floods unleashed by heavy rains in different parts of Uganda, the Red Cross said on Monday as authorities urged people in affected areas to relocate.
Seventeen flooding deaths have been confirmed in the western district of Bundibugyo. Another nine people have died in the mountainous districts of Sironko and Bududa in the east, where residents also face mudslides that can destroy entire enclaves, said Irene Nakasiita, a spokeswoman for the Uganda Red Cross.
Ugandan government officials have acknowledged the continuing threat from flooding and say relief is forthcoming to affected areas. Residents are being urged to move away from areas where rivers and streams have burst their banks.
More than 6,000 people have been displaced in Bududa, a rugged area in the foothills of Mount Elgon where mudslides have killed hundreds of people over the years. Some there have resisted the government's attempts to have them relocated to lowlands elsewhere, saying they find it hard to vacate their ancestral lands.
"The risk of more flooding and landslides is real," Musa Ecweru, the government minister in charge of disasters, said in a statement Thursday.
Hundreds of acres of plantations have been destroyed and an unknown number of livestock lost in the flooding and mudslides in Bududa and Sironko, Eweru said.
In March 2010 at least 100 people died in mudslides in Bududa, and injuries or deaths have been reported every year since then during the wet season.
Hong Kong police say they have made 6,022 arrests and fired nearly 16,000 tear gas rounds during six months of anti-government protests that have shaken the city.
Police say the arrests included 11 people detained in raids over the weekend that netted a pistol and other weapons. Police suspect the weapons were intended for use during a demonstration attended by hundreds of thousands of peaceful marchers on Sunday.
Police also arrested 12 people on Monday suspected of preparing gasoline bombs.
Police said they have also fired 10,000 rubber baton rounds during the six months of protests and that 493 officers have been injured.
Malaysia began a vaccination campaign in a rural town on Borneo island after a 3-month-old boy was confirmed to have polio in the country's first case of the highly infectious virus in 27 years.
The infant from Tuaran town in Sabah state tested positive for vaccine-derived polio virus type 1 on Friday after he was hospitalized with fever and muscle weakness. He is on respiratory support but his condition is stable, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said in a statement Monday.
Malaysia is the second Asian country to have reported a polio case after an outbreak in the Philippines in September. The World Health Organization says polio, which has been largely eradicated, remains endemic in only Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Dzulkefly said tests showed the baby's strain had genetic links to the polio virus detected in Philippines and investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the infection. Malaysia's last polio case occurred in 1992 and the country was declared polio-free in 2000.
The health ministry said the strain was believed to have originated from a weakened virus contained in oral polio vaccine that was excreted from the body through feces and possibly spread in an unsanitary environment to those who haven't been immunized.
Dzulkefly said Malaysia switched from oral vaccine to inactivated polio vaccine since 2008, that is given to children via injection in a combination with several vaccines for other infectious diseases including diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.
The government fully halted the use of oral vaccine three years ago, but he stressed the country has not had any reports of vaccine-derived polio cases from the use of over 80 million doses of the oral vaccine.
"The first polio case since Malaysia was polio-free upset us," Dzulkefly said.
Vaccination has been stepped up in the infant's home village after investigations showed 25 out of 204 children, aged between 2 months and 15 years, were not vaccinated against polio, he said.
"All of these children are non-citizens and have been given polio vaccines. This activity is being expanded to other risky areas to prevent transmission," he said. Officers are also educating villagers about polio and preventive measures, he said.
Tests have been carried out to those close to the infant and from the environment, he said, adding that so far wastewater samplings from six sewage treatment plants in Sabah showed no presence of wild polio virus or vaccine-derived strains.
Health officers are also bolstering surveillance to detect those who has muscle paralysis, a symptom of polio, though none have been detected so far, he said. There is no known cure for polio, which can only be prevented with vaccines.
Paris commuters inched to work Monday through exceptional traffic jams, as strikes to preserve retirement rights halted trains and subways for a fifth straight day.
Citing safety risks, the SNCF national rail network warned travelers to stay home or use "alternative means of locomotion" to get to work Monday instead of thronging platforms in hopes of getting the few available trains.
As a result, the national road authority reported more than 600 kilometers (360 miles) of traffic problems at rush hour around the Paris region — up from 150 kilometers (90 miles) on an average day.
The road traffic was worse Monday than when the strike started last week, because many French employees managed to work from home or take a day off then. But that's increasingly difficult as the strike wears on.
Fortified by the biggest nationwide demonstrations in years when the strike launched last Thursday, unions plan new protests Tuesday, and hope to keep up the pressure on the government to back down on the retirement reform.
Only about a sixth of French trains were running Monday, and only two of Paris' 16 subway lines were functioning normally. International lines also saw disruptions, and union activists blocked bus depots around Paris, limiting bus routes, too.
French President Emmanuel Macron summoned Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and other top officials Sunday night to strategize for a crucial week.
The prime minister will present details of the government's plan on Wednesday. It's not expected to change the official retirement age of 62 — but it is expected to encourage people to work longer.
The reform is central to Macron's vision for transforming the French economy. Government ministers insist the current system is unfair and financially unsustainable, while unions say the reform attacks fundamental worker rights and will force people to work longer for less.