The husband of imprisoned British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has said her case is looking “a lot bleaker” following the assassination of a top Iranian military leader in a US airstrike.
Qassem Soleimani – the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force – was killed in an attack authorised by Donald Trump at Baghdad Airport on Friday.
The death of Soleimani, considered by many as the second most powerful man in Iran, signals a serious escalation in hostilities between Iran and the US.
The air strike “definitely pours cold water over the chances of progress in Nazanin’s case”, Richard Ratcliffe said.
“The increase in tensions will put a freeze on any other rapprochement,” he told HuffPost UK.
“We had seen a release of a US prisoner just before Christmas – so were hopeful that might lead to other releases. We are much less hopeful now.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 41-year-old charity worker from north London, has been imprisoned in Tehran since 2016, when she was arrested and accused of spying while visiting family – allegations she strongly denies.
Some, including her MP Tulip Siddiq, have suggested the mother-of-one is being used as a political bargaining chip by Iran. Britain owes the country a historic debt of about £400m over a batch of tanks and military vehicles.
In March 2019, then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been given diplomatic protection, making her case a formal, legal dispute between Britain and Iran.
Now, amid fears about what the US attack on Iran could mean for international relations, her husband has called on politicians in the UK to keep “calm heads”.
“We have been calling for the UK to be a lot more strident in challenging Iran’s hostage-taking and that still remains important in the medium term,” he said. “But in the very short term I think it’s important there are calm heads.”
Ratcliffe added: “We have been promised a meeting with the PM. So will be looking to meet with him and find out his plans as soon as possible.” A date has not yet been set for the meeting, he added.
The assassination of Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander and the architect of the country’s military influence in the Middle East, has sparked reaction from politicians around the world.
In the UK, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the incident “an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict with global significance”.
“The UK government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the US.”
Meanwhile, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said further conflict was “in none of our interests”.
“We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qassem Soleimani,” he said. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate.”