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Minister Says UK Tried To Pay Iran Debt For Years To Secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe's Release

3 min read

The government had tried to pay Iran the debt it owed for several years before finally reaching an agreement to secure the release of Brits detained by the Iranian regime, a minister has said.

James Cleverly, the minister for Europe and North America, on Thursday said Iran's previous government had been "very, very difficult to deal with" while sanctions placed on Iran by the US over the collapse of the nuclear deal in 2018 made paying the regime "incredibly difficult".

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was reunited with her family after landing in the UK in the early hours of Thursday morning having been detained in Iran for six years over accusations of trying to overthrow the regime. 

Fellow British-Iranian national Anoosheh Ashoori also returned to the UK after spending five years in Iranian prison accused of being a spy. 

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents the Hampstead and Kilburn seat where the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family lives, tweeted pictures of Nazanin reuniting with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella at RAF Brize Norton shortly after their arrival.

Tehran agreed to free the pair after the government paid off debt worth up to £400m dating back to the 1970s when the UK cancelled an Iranian order of tanks and military vehicles. 

Asked by Sky News' Kay Burley why the UK hadn't paid the debt earlier, Cleverly said the government spent many years dealing with "an incredibly difficult government" and that a change in regime in Iran created more favourable conditions for negotiations. 

"The new government coming in did give us an opportunity to reset," he said.

"The foreign secretary had face-to-face meetings with her opposite number in Iran for the first time in over three years. I had a face-to-face meeting with my opposite number in Iran for the first time in many, many years".

He added that the UK "had been looking at ways to settle the debt" but that US sanctions on Iran put even more obstacles in the way of making the payment, which it accepted it owed.

"Ultimately, we never gave up," Cleverly said. "We continued working and continued supporting the families and I have to say: my admiration for the families of all those detained in Iran is enormous."

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who met the freed pair as they arrived in the UK, tweeted: "Great to see both Anoosheh and Nazanin in such good spirits. An emotional moment for both families as they welcome them home."


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