UK enters talks in Tehran over £400m debt in effort to secure release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

‘We are not even insisting on interest. Otherwise it would be billions,’ says Iranian diplomat

<p>The UK government is calling for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe</p>

The UK government is calling for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

A British government team has held meetings in Tehran to find ways to pay a £400m debt which could pave the way for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other UK dual nationals detained in Iran.

Iran’s ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, a former deputy foreign minister, is also engaged in ongoing talks with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) with both sides stating they want to resolve the issue.

In a speech earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We do want to pay this debt, we recognise it’s a legitimate debt. But of course, there are lots of issues. It is not simple, for various reasons. I’m also pressing for the return of our unfairly detained British nationals, including Nazanin.”

Mr Baharvand and stated that progress was being made and one should not be “pessimistic” about the outcome. The two sides had come close to a solution in the summer, he pointed out, but negotiations had come to a standstill because the British government said at the last minute that the payment may breach US sanctions.

The UK has lost a number of legal actions over £400m which Iran had paid in the 1970s to purchase Chieftain tanks. The vast majority of the tanks were not delivered, but the money was not returned.

The ambassador, speaking to journalists in London, rejected the suggestion that the debt could be paid by way of humanitarian aid. He said: “It’s not aid. Our money is here and we want our money. That is very simple. We want to receive our money.

“We are not even insisting on interest. Otherwise it would be billions. We are talking to our UK colleagues as to which channel is the most probable to transfer that money to our accounts.”

Referring to the talks in the summer, Mr Baharvand said: “We wanted to use that deal to ask our people that we are seeing a good sign from the UK and then that gives us a possibility to expedite our efforts to help the dual nationals and things like that. Then we had a deal. We signed it but two days after the signature of that deal the UK government said they could not implement it because of US sanctions.”

The Biden administration, said the ambassador, has refused a sanction waiver over the payment. “The US are not doing that. They have to help the UK government to do that. It is not impossible. Obstacles are not insurmountable, but we have to discuss, negotiate and find a way. We are now discussing through what channel that money be transferred. There is a negotiating process now,” he said.

Mr Baharvand also said that talks in Vienna between international powers and Iran over the country’s nuclear programme are moving forward after reports of an impasse.

He said: “The indication we had from yesterday’s talks was that it was optimistic because perhaps there was a misunderstanding of what was proposed by Iran. Perhaps they thought we would only talk exclusively on the sanctions and economic issues, and not on the nuclear issues, but now I think that misunderstanding is removed. So there was an optimistic approach so far as I was told.”

The ambassador, however, stressed that the nuclear negotiations will not have any bearing on the case of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals.

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