Negotiations with Iran to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are ‘going right to the wire’, said Boris Johnson while visiting Abu Dhabi today amid claims a deal has been struck to repay a £400million ‘debt’.
The Prime Minister said talks with Tehran over releasing the British-Iranian dual national were ‘moving forward’ but that he could not say more as ‘negotiations continue to be under way’.
Meanwhile, Liz Truss said ‘we’re working very hard’ and that it is a ‘priority’ to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and two other dual nationals.
The Foreign Secretary told Sky News: ‘We’ve also made it a priority to pay the debt that we owe to Iran, but I can’t say anything more than that I’m afraid.’
She added: ‘We have been clear that this is a legitimate debt that we owe Iran, and we have been seeking ways to pay it.’
Hopes were raised on Tuesday that she might finally be released, after an MP said that the 43-year-old’s British passport had been returned to her.
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq also said a British negotiating team is in Tehran, while Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains at her family home in the Iranian capital.
UK officials have not denied claims Britain agreed to repay the ‘debt’, reported The Telegraph, for 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles which were paid for but not delivered after the 1979 revolution toppled the Western-backed Shah.
Asked by broadcasters at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace hotel whether a UK negotiating team is in the Iranian capital vying for her release, Mr Johnson 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.’
The apparent breakthrough comes amid speculation of a strategic deal with Iran to ease dependence on Russian oil and gas, with claims that a new agreement on the Middle East state’s nuclear ambitions is close.
A wider pact could trigger the end of sanctions and allow Tehran’s massive oil and gas stocks to start flowing on to international markets, potentially easing the impact of the standoff with Russia that has sent prices spiralling.
Negotiations with Iran to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured with her daughter Gabriella) are ‘going right to the wire’, said Boris Johnson today amid claims a deal has been struck to repay a £400million ‘debt’
The Prime Minister (pictured inspecting the Guard of Honour as he arrives at an airport for his visit to the United Arab Emirates) made the comment while visiting Abu Dhabi
Lawyer Hojjat Kermani said he was hopeful for Zaghari-Racliffe’s (pictured in March 2020) release ‘in the next few days’ but that he had not been given an exact day as Tehran and London pressed on with talks about the long-standing debt
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. Pictured: her husband Richard Ratcliffe hunger strikes outside the Foreign Office in London in November 2021
The Shah of Iran paid Britain £650million for 1,750 Chieftain tanks (file photo above) in the 1970s but only 185 had been delivered when he was toppled in 1979 and the new government cancelled the order
PM will urge Saudi Arabia to bring down world oil prices
Boris Johnson is to ask Saudi Arabia to help bring down world oil prices despite outrage over its execution of 81 men at the weekend.
Downing Street said he would ask the desert kingdom and other countries in the Opec oil cartel to increase supplies to ‘reduce the volatility and bring prices down’.
The Prime Minister will travel to the Gulf this week amid growing concern about the impact of the Ukraine crisis on oil prices.
The RAC yesterday said pump prices hit new records at the weekend, with petrol averaging £1.63 a litre and diesel £1.73 – equal to £95 to fill a typical tank.
Asked about the development yesterday afternoon, Boris Johnson said he did not want to ‘tempt fate’ by commenting while ‘delicate discussions’ are still taking place.
‘Negotiations about all our difficult consular cases have been going on for a long time,’ he told reporters.
Iran has long insisted Britain owes the money for 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles which were paid for but not delivered after the 1979 revolution toppled the Western-backed Shah.
Both Tehran and London have denied there is a link with the fate of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
But in December, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss confirmed the £400million is a ‘legitimate debt’ that the Government wants to pay.
And experts said it is part of a much broader push to restore relations with the Gulf state, which went into the deep freeze over fears nuclear fuel it claimed was being enriched for power stations could be used for weapons.
In relation to the debt, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: ‘We continue to explore options to resolve this case and will not comment further as discussions are ongoing.’
On the cases of Britons detained, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: ‘We have long called for the release of unfairly detained British nationals in Iran. We don’t comment on speculation.’
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from London, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling to introduce her daughter Gabriella – then not even two years old – to her parents in April 2016.
The mother was sentenced to five years in prison over spurious allegations of plotting against the Tehran government and served out most of her first sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison.
She was released in March 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest.
In March 2021, she was released from house arrest but she was summoned to court again on the new charge of ‘propaganda against Iran’.
She was then sentenced to a new one-year term in jail in April last year. However that sentence has not yet started and she is banned from leaving the country.
Mr Ratcliffe, pictured, has spent 21 days camped outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office without food
Mr Ratcliffe, the husband of Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, ended his hunger strike because he said the pair’s daughter ‘needs two parents’
Mr Ratcliffe said he was starting to get pains in his feet overnight, and after a chat with a doctor the decision was made to end the hunger strike
The British mother held on spurious charges by Iran regime
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born and raised in Tehran and studied English literature at the capital’s university, before becoming an English teacher.
Following a devastating earthquake in Iran in 2003, she went to work as a translator in the relief effort for the Japanese International Co-operation Agency.
She then went on to work for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, before moving to the World Health Organisation as a communications officer.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe came to the UK in 2007 after securing a scholarship at London Metropolitan University to study for a masters in communication management.
It was a month after her arrival in the UK that she met her future husband through mutual friends.
Describing their first date, Richard Ratcliffe said they ‘clicked’ and he felt like he had ‘come home’.
The couple got married in August 2009 in Winchester and their daughter Gabriella, was born in June 2014, something Mr Ratcliffe said changed both their outlooks on life.
‘It was very important for Nazanin to keep going back to Iran to show her daughter to her parents… before she would always go once a year, but she tried to go twice after,’ he said.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe began working at Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2011 as a project co-ordinator before taking on the role of a project manager.
Mr Ratcliffe described his wife as very house-proud, meticulous and tidy, and said she has a ‘pretty keen sense of justice’, and is ‘outraged’ by what has happened to her and her daughter.
Local reports said she would likely return to London via Muscat following a phone call between Iran’s foreign minister and his Omani counterpart.
Iranian officials did not comment when asked whether the amount has been paid by Britain as reported by some Iranian outlets.
There are also claims fellow British-Iranian prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori could be released in the coming days.
Ms Siddiq said: ‘I am very pleased to say that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been given her British passport back.
‘She is still at her family home in Tehran. I also understand that there is a British negotiating team in Tehran right now.’
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, warned that the latest reports should be treated with caution as there had been ‘false dawn after false dawn’ in the long-running process.
He said: ‘We sincerely hope these reports are correct. The detainees and their families have been suffering for years, and a resolution can’t come quickly enough.
‘It’s been clear for a long time that the Iranian authorities have been targeting foreign nationals with spurious national security-related charges to exert diplomatic pressure.
‘In the past we’ve had false dawn after false dawn over possible breakthroughs, so it’s only right to be cautious at the moment.’
Efforts to strike a nuclear agreement with Iran have been going on for many years.
The so-called ‘P5 plus one’ group of powers, including the US, Britain and Russia, have been engaging with Tehran.
A deal was sealed when Barack Obama was president, but collapsed when Donald Trump took over in the White House.
Another pact has seemed close for several weeks, but Russia has been holding up the process by insisting its relations with Iran are not subject to the international sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Tory MP Bob Seely, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told MailOnline: ‘I’m not sure exactly where it is going to lead but I do think one of the fallouts from Russia is that there will be a renewed emphasis on getting some kind of deal and understanding with Iran.
‘This war clearly is reshaping the world and if you look at what is happening, with Boris off to Saudi, I think there are lots of things that are going to be playing out in the months to come.’
‘For sure if you can get a lot of it back up and running and in, potentially very important.
‘We are going to need to find a substitute in the short to medium term. Longer term is not so much of an issue with renewables and all that sort of stuff.
‘But it is effectively the next two years.
‘Assuming that Putin is going to stay in power there is going to need to be an answer about where we are going to get our supplies from.’
He added: ‘Maybe the Iranians will see this as an opportunity themselves. They have got more leverage, but maybe there is a correlation of interests now to do something that everyone can live with and will take the situation forward.’
Asked about the development yesterday afternoon, Mr Johnson said he did not want to ‘tempt fate’ by commenting while ‘delicate discussions’ are still taking place
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said of the Nazanin developments: ‘We are very close to the nuclear deal being revived… probably behind the scenes the Americans have been saying any part of this deal requires the release of Americans. This must have been part of the British deal.
‘The Iranians will want to imply one has got nothing to do with the other. So this may be why the passport issue is being dealt with now.’
He added: ‘The Americans are obviously looking actively at other sources of oil. Almost anywhere is preferable to Russia at this moment in time.
‘If sanctions are going to be released anyway as a result of a nuclear deal, then obviously it is not too great a concession to include Iran in that.’
‘Both the American sources as well as those from the Middle East suggest an agreement is ready to be signed.’
The British government have repeatedly said they are working hard to secure Zaghari-Ractliffe’s release but diplomatic efforts have so far failed to yield results.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe held a 21-day hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) late last year in a bid to kickstart diplomatic efforts once more.
There are also claims fellow British-Iranian prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori (pictured with his wife Sherry Izadi) could be released in the coming days
Pictured: Anoosheh Ashoori with his wife and daughter
Left to right: Aryan Ashoori, the son of Anoosheh Ashoori, Richard Ratcliffe, Sherry Izadi, the wife of Anoosheh Ashoori, MP for Lewisham East Janet Daby and Elika Ashoori, the daughter of Anoosheh Ashoori
He began his demonstration on October 24 after his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran, saying his family was ‘caught in a dispute between two states’.
In January, the daughter of another British-Iranian detained in Iran said her father was to begin a hunger strike due to a lack of progress in securing his release.
Retired civil engineer Anoosheh Ashoori has been held at Evin Prison on charges of spying for Israel, which he denies, for more than four years.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation said that when Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested she had travelled to Iran a personal capacity and had not been doing work in Iran.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation is a charity organisation that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
The Shah of Iran paid Britain £650million for 1,750 Chieftain tanks in the 1970s but only 185 had been delivered when he was toppled in 1979 and the new government cancelled the order.
Britain was told to pay back £450million by the International Chamber of Commerce in a 2009 ruling but sanctions on military equipment prevent payment.
What is the timeline of events in the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case?
April 2016: Arrested by the Revolutionary Guard in Tehran Airport after visiting her parents in Iran with her young daughter Gabriella.
She was taken to prison and held in solitary confinement for 45 days before being moved to a women’s wing.
The mother-of-one was not given access to legal counsel or medical treatment, and the lights in her cell remained permanently switched on.
As a result,Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe experienced problems walking, weight loss, and hair loss.
September 2016: She was sentenced to five years in prison for spying following a trial campaigners have branded ‘secret and unfair’.
April 2017: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe lost her appeal to overturn her sentence.
November 2017: She is hit with fresh charges of spreading propaganda just days after Boris Johnson told British MPs she has been training journalists in Iran.
She is temporarily released so she can spend time with her young daughter Gabriella, but is quickly sent back to prison where she suffers a panic attack.
Released on house arrest after Covid-19 started sweeping through Iran.
Released from house arrest at the end of her sentence but banned from leaving the country.
She is sentenced to a new term in jail on charges of propaganda against Iran’s ruling system, charges she denies.
She remains stuck in Iran, banned from leaving the country. Her second sentence has not yet begun.
Reports emerge Britain may have paid the £400million debt tied to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in order to secure her release.
Her lawyer says he is ‘hopeful’ for good news of her release ‘in the next few days’.
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