U.K.-Iran talks fail to agree release terms for Zaghari-Ratcliffe

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Anglo-Iranian woman imprisoned by Tehran since 2016, is set to remain in detention after negotiations between British and Iranian officials failed to agree on the terms of her release.

Ali Bagheri, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, met with British Foreign Minister James Cleverly in talks aimed at relaunching the nuclear deal, as well as discussing the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case.

It was the first time Bagheri had met officials in London since the election of the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi five months ago, raising expectations that progress could be made to secure the release of the aid worker.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe, who is on the 19th of a hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Bureau, described her meeting with Cleverly as “depressing.” He added that he was “a little more deflated today than yesterday”.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker, was jailed in Iran five and a half years ago on a spying charge which she has always denied. She was under house arrest in Tehran since March 2020. In April, she was sentenced to another year in prison after being convicted of “propaganda against [Islamic Republic’s] institution. ”She was also banned from leaving the country until 2023.

Ratcliffe believes his wife’s continued detention is linked to an historic £ 400 million debt for the purchase of Chieftain tanks ordered by Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution but never delivered. The British government refuses to say why the debt has not yet been paid.

Jeremy Hunt, a former UK foreign minister, called on Thursday to pay off the debt. “We should pay for it because it’s irritating to relationships and whether or not it has to be linked to the Nazanin case, Iranians definitely make that link,” he told BBC Radio 4.

The couple’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq, said she was exasperated after meeting with Cleverly on Thursday afternoon. “The debt was lifted and he said the two were unrelated,” Siddiq said. “He didn’t deny that we owed money, but he refused to connect the two.”

He added: “The people who captured Nazanin actually told her: ‘Your imprisonment is due to your country’s non-payment of debt.’ It is absolutely ridiculous to try to deny the connection, but he did. ” The government “will never tell us the reasons why we will not pay him. We didn’t feel there was any plan or strategy, “he said.

Ratcliffe added: “Hey [Cleverly] we said ‘Our position is well known’, and we said ‘Well look, frankly it’s not very well known, you didn’t tell us. I don’t know if you’ve told anyone else but we’ve never heard of it. ‘”

The FCDO said: “Minister Cleverly met with Richard Ratcliffe again today to reaffirm our commitment to reunite his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with his family in the UK. Foreign Minister, Minister Cleverly and the FCDO continue to work hard to ensure the release of all those British citizens unjustly detained in Iran. “

Government officials previously said paying off the debt could violate EU or US sanctions against Iran. However, activists say the UK is no longer in the EU and the Americans have described the matter as a “sovereign decision” for the UK government.

Ratcliffe believes the UK government has now linked his wife’s release to the fate of American prisoners held in Tehran, as well as Iran’s return to negotiations on its nuclear program.

On Thursday evening he said he would continue the hunger strike, but added: “I made a promise to Nazanin, I promised my family, mother in particular, and the family doctors, that I will not go too far. ”

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