Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Boris Johnson says negotiations with Iran to free Briton ‘going up to the wire’

Negotiations continue to be under way, Boris Johnson says

Katy Clifton
Wednesday 16 March 2022 08:07
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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Detained British-Iranian mother gets passport back

Boris Johnson has said negotiations with Iran to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are “going right up to the wire”.

The prime minister raised hopes that the dual national’s six-year ordeal could come to a close after suggestions on Tuesday that the mother of one has had her passport returned.

But Mr Johnson, during a trip to the Middle East, was cautious not to elaborate further on the state of negotiations with Tehran because talks are ongoing.

A glimmer of optimism for the 43-year-old came a day earlier when her constituency MP in Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiq, said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been returned her British passport.

A negotiating team from the UK is currently working in Tehran to secure the release of dual nationals, while Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains at her family home in the Iranian capital.

Speaking on Wednesday to broadcasters at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, Mr Johnson said: “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.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 as she prepared to fly back to the UK, having taken her daughter Gabriella – then not even two years old – to see relatives.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016

She was accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four years in Tehran’s Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

Both the UK government and Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe have always denied the allegations.

While the details of the negotiations remain unclear, it is possible they are linked to a £400 million debt dating back to the 1970s owned to Iran by the UK.

The government accepts it should pay the “legitimate debt” for an order of 1,500 Chieftain tanks that was not fulfilled after the shah was deposed and replace by a revolutionary regime.

Tehran remains under strict sanctions, however, which have been linked to the failure to clear the debt.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss on Wednesday said the UK was working “very hard” to secure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, adding it was also a “priority to pay the debt that we owe to Iran” .

Meanwhile, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sister-in-law Rebecca Ratcliffe said the family are trying not to raise their hopes too much after the latest developments, having been left disappointed in the past.

She told BBC Breakfast: “We know that there’s a delegation, a UK delegation, gone over there to talk to Iranian officials and hopefully negotiate so it seems like a very positive step in Nazanin’s case, and hopefully coming close to an end but we just don’t know how far it’s gone.”

Ms Ratcliffe said the case could come to a close very quickly or could be “a stunt” on Iran’s part.

She said: “This may all be over in a week or two. But also it may just be a stunt from the Iranians. We’ve had this before. You know, we’ve had many ups over the last six years and been told she’s been about to be released. So there’s an element of false hopes and I think our family, Nazanin, her parents, find it hard to get too excited at the moment.”

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