UK ‘to pay Iran £450m’ to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Downing St denies decades-old debt and fate of the British prisoner are linked
Downing Street has denied there is any link between a £450m debt owed to Iran and the fate of jailed aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The Sun says Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who faced calls to resign after claiming Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran “training journalists”, and Chancellor Philip Hammond have quietly authorised government lawyers to settle the long-standing debt in a bid to help free the British citizen.
The bill dates back to 1976, when the Shah of Iran paid an estimated £450m to the British government for 1,750 Chieftan tanks and other vehicles. Almost none were delivered after the UK cut diplomatic ties in response to the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
In 2001, The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the outstanding funds should be returned - and it now it appears the UK is willing to pay back the money in order to break the deadlock over Zaghari-Ratcliffe and bring her home.
Sky News reports that Foreign Office officials are trying to find ways to release the money “in the face of UN sanctions”.
Sky’s Defence Correspondence Alistair Bunkall said the money should not be considered a ransom payment. “This is effectively Iran’s money and they want it back,” he said.
While the debt has been neither demanded by Iran nor offered by Britain, the story was probably leaked to “test Iranian reaction and, to a lesser extent, British public opinion”.
However, when asked about the report, Theresa May’s spokesman said: “We are clear we don’t see any link between these two issues.”
“The reports are speculation, not anything that I recognise,” he added.
The Daily Mirror says Iranian hardliners have “told ministers they expect the debt to be settled as part of a shopping list of demands before Nazanin is freed” but British diplomats told The Daily Telegraph that any payment should not be linked to the fate of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The chances of a settlement in the Chieftain tank dispute are “high”, says The Guardian, “since both sides have given ground over the sum involved and because economic sanctions were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear deal”.