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.”


Bahrain says conference co-hosted with US aimed at helping Palestinians

Updated 29 min 20 sec ago
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Bahrain says conference co-hosted with US aimed at helping Palestinians

DUBAI: Bahrain said Tuesday a peace conference it is co-hosting next month with the US is aimed at helping the Palestinians, who have criticized the kingdom for failing to consult them about the event.
The conference “serves no other purpose” than to help the Palestinian people “through developing their abilities and enhancing their resources,” said Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa.
The kingdom “remains supportive of the brotherly Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate rights on their land as well as establishing an independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Bahrain’s top diplomat said in a statement.
The White House announced Sunday it would co-host the June 25-26 conference with Bahrain focusing on economic aspects of the long-delayed US peace plan, with the declared aim of achieving Palestinian prosperity.
“We were not consulted by any party on the announced meeting to take place in Manama, Bahrain,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement.
“We have not mandated any party to negotiate on our behalf.”
The Palestinians have boycotted the US administration since President Donald Trump broke with decades of consensus and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
They consider the eastern part of the city the capital of their future state and have shown little interest in the US peace plan, which they fear will be heavily biased in favor of Israel.
Dubbed “Peace for Prosperity,” the conference is expected to bring together leaders from several governments, civil society and the business sector.
Trump’s office said the conference was a “pivotal opportunity... to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.”
The Palestinians see this as offering financial rewards in exchange for accepting ongoing Israeli occupation.
“Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected,” Erekat said.