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US: Zarif can visit sick colleague after Iran frees American

EDITH M. LEDERER
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center far right, and others in the Iranian delegation listens to Iran's President Hassan Rouhani address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States said Friday that Iran's foreign minister can visit the country's ailing U.N. ambassador at a New York hospital only if Tehran releases an American citizen, diplomats and the U.S. State Department said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is in New York for the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, had hoped to visit Iran's U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi as he is being treated for cancer and requested permission from the State Department, diplomats at the United Nations said. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue has not been made public.

The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Zarif that severely limit where he can go in New York City. The State Department confirmed Friday that the Iranian foreign minister wants to visit "a colleague who is in the hospital receiving world class care."

"Iran has wrongfully detained several U.S. citizens for years, to the pain of their families and friends they cannot freely visit," the State Department said. "We have relayed to the Iranian Mission that the travel request will be granted if Iran releases a U.S. citizen."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said that it's America's turn to release an Iranian citizen.

Asked Thursday about Americans imprisoned in Iran and Iranians imprisoned in the United States, he noted that the Trump administration had said that if at least one American was freed by Iran, then Washington would reciprocate.

Rouhani cited the June release of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese and permanent U.S. resident detained in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on accusations of spying for the United States.

"They only thanked Iran," Rouhani said. "The ball stands in America's court."

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Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington