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Wax detainee displayed in prison cell in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP via Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House secretly contacted Iran in December to suggest a "direct channel" between the two countries in order to kick off negotiations to release prisoners held by both the United States and Iran. At least four Americans are known to currently be held by Iran.

Why it matters: The proposal marked the Trump administration's first diplomatic outreach to Iran regarding prisoner negotiations. A 2016 prisoner swap with Iran — which also included the unfreezing of $400 million in Iranian assets — had prompted then-candidate Trump to openly criticize Obama administration policy on the issue.

Plot twist: Iran didn’t respond. The WSJ reports that although there have been at least three additional attempts from D.C. to discuss the release of the prisoners, Tehran has refused to engage with U.S. officials on the offer. The Trump administration has reportedly been considering toughening its policy on Iran's support for militant groups and nuclear capabilities.

Think back: Egyptian American prisoners freed thanks to Trump.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).

4 hours ago - World

Scoop: Blinken protests Israel settlements approval in "tense" phone call

Benny Gantz (L) and Tony Blinken. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken protested the decision to approve 3,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during a tense phone call on Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time new construction in the settlements has been approved since President Biden assumed office, and the Biden administration had been privately pressing the Israeli government not to proceed.

The startup that wants to disrupt big internet providers

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A new startup backed by funding from AOL founder Steve Case and Laurene Powell Jobs wants to break up broadband monopolies across the country.

Why it matters: Internet access has been crucial during the pandemic, but it's not ubiquitous, and it can be both slow and unaffordable in swaths of the country.