Boris Johnson has said the government is doing “everything we can” in the interests of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – but officials have downplayed claims from Iran that the UK would pay a £400m debt to secure her release.
Iranian state TV claimed on Sunday that a deal had been struck over the long-running dispute, which has been suggested as a reason for the British-Iranian charity worker's detention.
However, a Foreign Office spokesperson said the government’s position remained unchanged and that Iran had made similar claims before.
The prime minister said on Monday the jailed British woman’s case and the debt were “two entirely separate issues”.
Speaking during a campaign visit to Hartlepool, he said: “We of course make sure that we do everything we can to look after the interests of Nazanin and all the very difficult dual national cases we have in Tehran.”
The legal dispute dates back to the 1970s when the then-shah of Iran paid the UK £400m for 1,500 Chieftain tanks.
Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic when the shah was toppled in 1979, but kept the money despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.
The Foreign Office said ”legal discussions are ongoing“ over the debt despite the claim made on Iranian state TV, which cited an anonymous official.
The report emerged after foreign secretary Dominic Raab said Iran’s treatment of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe amounted to “torture” and called on Iran to “release her immediately and without condition”.
“It is clear that she is subjected to a cat-and-mouse game that the Iranians, or certainly part of the Iranian system, engage with and they try and use her for leverage on the UK,” Mr Raab told the BBC.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, of north London, was detained in Tehran in 2016 while taking daughter Gabriella to see her family, as authorities made widely refuted allegations of spying.
She completed a five-year sentence in March, having carried out hunger strikes in protest over her treatment in jail as diplomatic efforts were made to secure her freedom.
But she and her family were delivered a fresh blow last week when she was given an additional one-year jail term, while she was also banned from leaving Iran for a further year.
Additional reporting by PA
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies