LONDON: Britain “took every precaution” that a £393 million ($517.5 million) debt repayment to Iran would not be used for weapons, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said.
The debt, owed for nearly 40 years, was paid in exchange for the freedom of British-Iranian dual nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashori. They were returned to the UK overnight on Wednesday.
Truss tried to separate the issue of the “legitimate debt” and the freedom of the hostages, but the Daily Telegraph reported that the plane carrying the hostages would only take off once the transaction had been made.
“We had been looking at ways to settle the debt that we conceded that we owed,” James Cleverly, minister of state for Europe and North America, told Sky News.
“We owed this debt, we accepted that debt, obviously the sanctions position made it incredibly difficult. You cannot just write a cheque, it doesn’t work like that.
“But it’s taken a huge amount of work to come up with a method of ensuring that money is for humanitarian purposes and it conforms to the sanctions.”
Asked how confident he was that the cash would not be used for arms, Cleverly said: “We have taken every precaution to make sure that this is used exclusively for humanitarian requirements.
“Iran does have a significant, meaningful humanitarian requirement, and as I say we have taken precautions to ensure that.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori had spent six and five years respectively behind bars in Iran, both on national security or spying-related charges that they both vehemently deny.
There had been widespread speculation, including by Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, that their freedom was contingent upon the release of money owed to pre-revolutionary Iran by Britain — now paid in full — for an undelivered order of tanks.
Under the shah, Iran had been a close ally of the UK and the wider West. But that relationship, and the defense cooperation it entailed, was upended with the 1979 revolution that overthrew him.