Both the British Government and Iran have denied any links between a £450m debt and the fate of jailed aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The Sun claimed that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond were “quietly authorising government lawyers” to finally settle a 38 year-long dispute over a tank deal.
According to its report, Iranian regime hardliners had told ministers they expected the debt to be settled as part of a list of demands before freeing Zaghari-Ratcliffe who has been held for 19 months.
An international court ordered the UK to reimburse Teheran after the Ministry of Defence reneged on a deal to sell 1,750 Chieftan tanks to Iran in 1979, but still kept its money.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May told Reuters there was no link between the debt and Zaghari-Ratcliff’s case. The news agency said the debt was £400m.
“We are clear we don’t see any link between these two issues,” the spokesman said.
“The reports are speculation, not anything that I recognize.”
Iran also rejected the suggestion the debt and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s freedom were linked as “wrong”.
“These are two separate matters ... Linking them is wrong. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been tried and sentenced to jail,” TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested while holidaying in Iran with her then, 22-month-old daughter Gabriella, and jailed on charges of spying and spreading propaganda.
A false claim by Johnson earlier this month that the Thomson Reuters Foundation worker was in fact training journalists during her trip led to the 38-year-old being re-charged and warned she may face a further five years incarceration.
Johnson apologised for the mistake in the House of Commons on Monday and on Wednesday met with Zaghari-Ratcliff’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, for the first time.
Ratcliffe pushed Johnson on a request to accompany him on a visit to Iran to see his wife, but nothing was agreed on.
A decision was also not reached on a request to give Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection with Ratcliffe saying Johnson had “expressed reservations” about whether it would “have a positive impact on the case”.
The pair, however, agreed to explore the option further with their respective lawyers.
Johnson said his overriding principle in handling this case was to “secure a permanent family reunion, not a temporary one”.
Ratcliffe’s MP Tulip Siddiq said the Foreign Secretary had told her the British Government is “calling for Nazanin’s release on humanitarian grounds”.
Siddiq confronted Johnson over an article in the Sun that day claiming Iran had made a list of demands in exchange for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.
She asked three times which unnamed minister had spoken to the paper but Johnson said only it was not someone from his department.
Ratcliffe last week made an emotional appeal for help from ministers in a HuffPost UK vlog.