Hopes For Nazanin As UK Looks To Pay £400 Million Tank Debt To Iran

Foreign secretary Liz Truss hinted that Britain is about to settle a decades-old debt.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Truss
Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Truss
HuffPost UK

Liz Truss raised hopes for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s return home today by hinting the UK is ready to settle a historic debt with Iran.

The foreign secretary said she had made securing the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British-Iranian dual nationals a “priority”.

Truss also strongly hinted that Britain is about to settle a £400 million debt to Iran relating to a contract for undelivered tanks.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran has long been linked to the decades-old debt, although Britain denies the two issues are linked.

It comes amid heightened hopes for her return to the UK after it was revealed Zaghari-Ratcliffe had her British passport returned to her.

Truss told Sky News on Wednesday: “We have been clear this is a legitimate debt that we do owe Iran and we have been seeking ways to pay it.”

Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella hold a candlelit vigil outside the Foreign Office for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella hold a candlelit vigil outside the Foreign Office for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
SOPA Images via Getty Images

Asked how the UK could pay the debt given sanctions on Iran, she replied: “Well I can’t go into details, I’m afraid, but we are looking for ways to pay it. And we have been very clear, it is a legitimate debt that the United Kingdom owes Iran.”

Asked if they could pay it through medical equipment and medicines, Truss replied: “We’re looking at ways of paying that debt. That is a separate issue from the issue of the detainees.”

She declined to say whether the debt had been paid already but confirmed that a British team was in Tehran working to release British-Iranian dual nationals.

The £400 million debt relates to a cancelled order for 1,500 Chieftain tanks dating back to the 1970s.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an aid worker, was arrested in Iran in 2016 on a visit to her parents and served a five-year jail sentence after being convicted of plotting to overthrow the country’s clerical establishment. She denied the charge.

Her sister-in-law Rebecca Ratcliffe said the family were trying not to raise their hopes too much in her case after disappointments in the past.

She told BBC Breakfast it was a “very positive step” that the UK had sent a negotiating team but that it could be a “stunt” on Iran’s part.

Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary, meeting Richard Ratcliffe
Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary, meeting Richard Ratcliffe
STEFAN ROUSSEAU via Getty Images

Ratcliffe added: “This may all be over in a week or two. But also it may just be a stunt from the Iranians. We’ve had this before.

“We’ve had many ups over the last six years and been told she’s been about to be released. So there’s an element of false hopes and I think our family, Nazanin, her parents, find it hard to get too excited at the moment.”

Her MP, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, said her family were feeling “more hopeful” about the progress of her case.

The Hampstead and Kilburn MP told BBC Breakfast: “As you can imagine, Richard [her husband] is feeling hopeful, more hopeful than he has in six years. You know, this campaign has been very long. It feels like there’s a bit of light at the end of a very long tunnel.”

She said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been called in for “quite intense” questioning by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence and then had her British passport returned – for the first time since April 3, 2016.

Siddiq added: “She is technically on a travel ban but the fact that a passport has been given to her makes us feel very hopeful, and her husband is certainly feeling quite hopeful today.”

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson said talks with Iran over releasing Zaghari-Ratcliffe were “moving forward” but that he could not say more as “negotiations continue to be under way”.

Asked by broadcasters in Abu Dhabi whether a UK negotiating team was currently in Tehran, the PM said: “It is true and it has been for a long time that we’re negotiating for the release of our dual nationals in Tehran. There are some very sad cases, including Nazanin.

“I really don’t think I should say much more, I’m sorry, although things are moving forward.

“I shouldn’t really say much more right now just because those negotiations continue to be under way and we’re going right up to the wire.”


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