Government to ‘settle £450m Iran debt to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’
Ministers are reportedly preparing to settle a long standing £450m debt to Iran in a bid to have Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed from prison.
The British-Iranian mother has been held by the regime since April 2016 after she was accused of spying.
The Sun report that the debts – racked up by an international court order forced on the UK after it reneged on a deal to sell tanks to Iran in 1979 – form part of a list of demands laid out by Tehran before they consider her release.
It follows the revelation yesterday that Foreign Office ministers were told in a meeting that the Iranian government expects the numerous demands to be met..
The paper say Boris Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond have been drawing up plans to sort the deal, which could improve bilateral relations and lead to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.
Pressure to free the mother-of-two has been further pressed after Boris Johnson wrongly claimed she had been in the country “teaching journalists” – a claim which could see Iranian prosecutors double her jail sentence.
The Foreign Secretary has since apologised and spoken to his Iranian counterpart to clarify his comments.
Today's reports say Treasury and Foreign Office officials are plotting how the situation can be resolved without breaking UN sanctions on military equipment, overseen by the EU, that would currently halt the payment.
They add that the money is being held by the High Court on behalf of the Government, after the European Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of Iran in 2001.
A Government spokeswoman said: “This is a long-standing case and relates to contracts signed over 40 years ago with the pre-revolution Iranian regime.
“Funding to settle the debt was paid to the high court by the Treasury in 2002.
“Iran’s Ministry of Defence remains subject to EU sanctions.
“It is wrong to link a completely separate debt issue with any other aspect of our bilateral relationship with Iran.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard met Mr Johnson yesterday and told the Foreign Secretary: “It is important that the UK honours its international legal obligations, so that Iran can honour its legal obligations.
“They are separate things, but it is good for the atmosphere if they are all served.”