Britain slams Iran’s ‘vile ploy’ over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, said he was “blindsided” by Iran's prisoner swap comments. (Free Nazanin Campaign)
Updated 26 April 2019
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Britain slams Iran’s ‘vile ploy’ over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

  • Iranian foreign minister suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and an Iranian woman held in Australia
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 and accused of plotting against the government

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday dismissed the suggestion of a prisoner swap for a British-Iranian mother being held in Tehran as a “vile” diplomatic ploy, while her husband told AFP the idea was “almost impossible.”
In New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in jail in Tehran for alleged sedition, and Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition warrant.
Hunt said there was a “huge difference” between the two women.
“The woman in jail in Australia is facing due process, a proper legal procedure, and she is alleged to have committed a very serious crime,” he told reporters in London.
“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is innocent — she has done nothing wrong.”
He added: “What is unacceptable about what Iran is doing is that they are putting innocent people in prison and using it as leverage.
“I’m afraid that is what is happening with this Australian case. They’re saying, we’ll only release this innocent Brit if you’ll do something that suits us diplomatically.”
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband who has been campaigning for her release, said he was “blindsided” by the offer as he followed Zarif’s speech on Twitter and does not think it is the “way forward.”
“It’s clearly a hopeful thing that he was talking about her release explicitly,” he told AFP.
“At the same time, linking her in a public way to a big complicated deal that is almost impossible to do because it’s been made public could easily be a displacement tactic.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and was arrested in 2016 while visiting relatives for the Persian New Year.
Iranian authorities accused her of plotting against the government and handed her a five-year jail sentence for sedition.
Britain has taken the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection in a bid to free her.
Ghodskani, a legal resident of Australia, was arrested in 2017 after US prosecutors said she sought US digital communications technology by presenting herself as an employee of a Malaysian company.
US prosecutors said she in fact was sending the technology to Iranian company Fanamoj, which works in public broadcasting.
Both women have been separated from their young children while being detained.
Ratcliffe has also been separated from his daughter Gabriella, who was with her mother when she was detained in Iran and has since remained in the country with her grandparents.
The prospect of Gabriella’s possible return to Britain after her fifth birthday this June is causing Zaghari-Ratcliffe fresh anguish amid her continued detention, he said.
Ratcliffe said his wife was “lifted” by the British government’s decision to grant her diplomatic protection in March.
But he added: “generally, her spirits are gradually sinking now.”


Missile deal signals hot summer for Turkey’s transatlantic ties

Updated 53 min 5 sec ago
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Missile deal signals hot summer for Turkey’s transatlantic ties

  • Turkey says buying Russian weapons system is aimed at meeting Turkey’s defense needs

ANKARA: Turkey has until next month to cancel a multibillion dollar S-400 missile system deal with Russia, or face harsh US penalties, CNBC reported on Tuesday. 

If Ankara does not cancel in favor of buying the US-made Patriot missile defense system instead, it may also be removed from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program, costing thousands of jobs. Turkey is currently producing about 800 parts for the world’s most advanced fighter.

The delivery of 100 F-35s to Ankara may also be halted, and other defense and industrial cooperation projects with the US may be put at risk.   

In his latest visit to Turkey in early May, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said its procurement of the S-400 was a national decision. 

However, the system, which cannot be integrated alongside other NATO systems and carries fears around data collection, has been a major source of disagreement between Ankara and Washington. 

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) used to impose sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia, could be used against Turkey should the deal with Moscow proceed, though it is thought not until Ankara takes physical delivery of the missiles, which is expected to take place in July.

Sanctions could include prohibitions on banking and foreign exchange transactions, and the denial of export licenses. 

Individuals involved may also be subject to visa denials and exclusion from the US, as well as partial freezing or confiscation of assets.

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, says CAATSA would hurt Turkish interests, but would also limit US President Donald Trump. 

“He could technically veto (CAATSA), but the language in the legislation is not as straightforward as other waivers included in sanctions legislation. It is not a question of if Turkey will be sanctioned, it is how, and using which of the 12 available sanctions,” he told Arab News. 

“Turkey would do itself a lot of favors if it stopped saying this was a done deal and delayed acquisition to allow for more talks. But that is Ankara’s choice to make.” 

Turkish military personnel have already traveled to Russia for training on the S-400 system, but Ankara does not believe the deal will affect its involvement in the F-35 program. 

Turkish officials are also evaluating an offer made by the US in late March to sell them the Patriot system, with a decision expected by early June.

In a statement on Tuesday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the country was meeting its responsibilities under the F-35 project and added that buying the Russian system aimed at meeting Turkey’s defense needs. 

“Turkey prepares itself for the possible implementation of CAATSA sanctions. In our meetings with the US, we perceive a general rapprochement on issues including the east of the Euphrates, F-35s and Patriots,” he said. 

Besides pushing Turkey away from the Atlantic alliance, the potential CAATSA sanctions would also hit the Turkish economy, which is already in recession, with the Turkish lira losing more than 40 percent of its value over the past two years.

Timothy Ash, a London-based economist, said Ankara would be taking a huge gamble if they thought Trump would block sanctions, telling Arab News it would be “catastrophic for the Turkish economy.”

Trump already doubled US tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum last year, over the detention of an American pastor on espionage charges in the country. 

“There will be very real and very negative consequences if Turkey goes through with its plans to buy the Russia system,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

An expected state visit by Trump to Ankara in July has not been officially confirmed.