LONDON: Iran has disputed suggestions by British ministers that more than half a billion dollars paid to secure the release of two hostages has been earmarked for humanitarian spending.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, told reporters on Thursday that the $530 million paid to Iran had already been transferred to the treasury and was not being safeguarded by another country.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said the funds were ringfenced for the purchase of humanitarian goods — but Iranian authorities dispute that.
“This money is in complete possession of Iran and the manner of spending the repaid amount is completely subject to the decision of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khatibzadeh said.
Both the UK and Tehran have sought to downplay the link between the $530 million handed over to Iran — owed due to a historic debt resulting from un unfulfilled order of thousands of tanks by the republic’s former government — and the release of detained dual nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashoori.
Truss said that the money had been paid back “in parallel” with the freeing of the hostages, while Iranian daily newspaper Keyhan said the UK was “forced” by Iran to repay the debt.
Dozens of Iranian dual nationals and foreign citizens are being held in Iranian prisons or barred from leaving the country in what many regard as attempts to build leverage with Western countries.
The release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori took place against the backdrop of late-stage negotiations between the US and Tehran over the return to an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear research in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: “We are closer than ever to the endpoint to reach an agreement, but what can determine a good and lasting agreement is realistic behavior by the US, and no new and incorrect demands.”