LONDON: British ministers have denied rumors that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will be released shortly, and condemned Tehran’s use of dual nationals to gain “political leverage.”
In a press conference hosted with his US counterpart, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government is “working very intensively” to secure the release of British-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as well as that of other detained dual nationals.
“It is incumbent on Iran, unconditionally, to release those who have been held arbitrarily and in our view unlawfully. The reports are not yet accurate in terms of the suggestion of her release,” Raab said.
Earlier on Monday, Britain’s Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, said British dual nationals should not be used as “political leverage” by Iran, and that their plight should be treated as a separate issue to the legal dispute over an old debt between the two countries.
There has been a renewed focus on the plight of British-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe in recent weeks after an Iranian court sentenced her to an additional 12 months behind bars following the conclusion of a five-year sentence she had already served on heavily disputed national security charges.
An Iranian state TV report on Sunday claimed that Britain would repay a £400 million ($556 million) debt allegedly owed to Iran for undelivered tanks, agreed with the country’s pre-revolutionary government, to secure her release.
But Cleverly and Raab have both denied those reports.
“We have also seen a number of occasions where the Iranian regime have used disinformation. We’re hearing inaccurate reports coming out over the last couple of days,” Cleverly said.
“On the one hand, they are saying that (Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s) proceedings are legitimate — we don’t agree with that at all — but then also saying that they are linked to this legal dispute — it can’t be both,” he told Sky News.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said that he had “heard nothing” about a deal to secure her release.
Cleverly told Times Radio that legal disputes with Iran should be kept separate from the “arbitrary” detention of British nationals by Iranian authorities.
“British dual nationals, and Nazanin is one of them, held in arbitrary detention by Iran should be released,” he said.
The issue of dual-nationality prisoners detained by Iran has become swept up in wider talks between Washington and Tehran in Vienna on the future of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Earlier on Monday, Raab, who described Iran’s treatment of Zaghari-Ratcliffe as “torture,” also for the first time said that her fate is now tied not only to the decades-old legal dispute over undelivered tanks, but also to the outcome of the Vienna talks on the future of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and Iran’s nascent nuclear program.