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Britain should pay £400m Iran debt to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, says Jeremy Hunt


Jeremy Hunt suggested that Britain’s debt to Iran, which dates back to the Seventies, be paid off to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/AFP via Getty Images/Free Nazanin Campaign/PA

Britain should pay its £400 million debt to Iran in the hope of securing the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The former Foreign Secretary said that the country was “an absolutely despicable regime that sponsors terrorism across the Middle East”, but that the UK should pay the debt, which dates back to the Seventies.

Ministers have been reluctant to pay the money, despite an international court ruling that said the debt was legitimate.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family say she was told by Iranian authorities that she was being held there because the money had not yet been paid.

On Thursday, Mr Hunt called on ministers to settle the debt in the hope of buying the freedom of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been in custody in the country since 2016.

His intervention came on the 19th day of a hunger strike by Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband.

Richard Ratcliffe has been on hunger strike since last month in protest at the slow progress in freeing his wife from captivity in Iran - Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Richard Ratcliffe has been on hunger strike since last month in protest at the slow progress in freeing his wife from captivity in Iran – Reuters/Peter Cziborra

“We have contracts with countries all over the world, some of them nicer, some of them nastier, and we are a country that pays our debts,” he told the BBC.

“If this was ransom money, I would be saying we should not pay it, and I’ve said that to Richard, however painful that sounds, because you just encourage more hostage-taking.

“But this is not ransom money. This is a debt. An international court has said so. The Defence Secretary has said so. We should pay it because it is an irritant to relations and whether or not it should be linked to Nazanin’s case, the Iranians certainly do make that linkage.”

Ministers pressured to secure release

Mr Ratcliffe has been camped outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) during the Iranian delegation’s trip to Cop26 in the hope of pressurising ministers to do more to secure her release.

On Thursday, the FCDO said it had used a visit by Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, to “press on the need for Iran to urgently release all British nationals unfairly detained in Iran, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe”.

Mr Ratcliffe also met James Cleverly, an FCDO minister, for a “cordial” meeting in which Mr Cleverly “couldn’t give a timeline on when things were going to move forwards,” he said.

“We’re still stuck in the same problems that led us to end up on hunger strike.”

An FCDO spokesman said: “The Foreign Secretary, Minister Cleverly and the FCDO continue to work hard to secure the release of all those British nationals unfairly detained in Iran.”



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