Negotiations with Iran to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are “going right up to the wire”, Boris Johnson has said.
The prime minister said talks with Tehran on the release of the British-Iranian national are “moving forward”, but that “negotiations continue to be under way”.
Asked whether a negotiating team was in Tehran trying to secure her release, he said: “It is true and it has been for a long time that we’re negotiating for the release of our dual nationals in Tehran.
“There are some very sad cases, including Nazanin.
“I really don’t think I should say much more, I’m sorry, although things are moving forward.
“I shouldn’t really say much more right now just because those negotiations continue to be under way and we’re going right up to the wire.”
It comes after MP Tulip Siddiq revealed on Tuesday that the 43-year-old’s British passport had been returned to her.
Priority to pay ‘legitimate debt’ to Iran
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of three British citizens currently being held in Iran. Negotiations are also under way to secure the release of Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz.
Nazanin’s six-year fight for freedom
Surviving in an Iranian prison – the story of Anoosheh Ashoori
According to her family, she was told by local authorities that she was being detained because of the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400m debt to Iran.
The government has accepted it should pay the “legitimate debt” for an order of 1,500 Chieftain tanks that were not fulfilled after the shah was deposed and replaced by a revolutionary regime.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News this morning the UK is working “very hard” to secure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.
“We’ve also made it a priority to pay the debt that we owe to Iran,” Ms Truss said. “But I can’t say anything more than that. I’m afraid.”
She added: “We have been clear this is a legitimate debt that we do owe Iran and we have been seeking ways to pay it.”
She did not say whether the debt had been paid, and added: “What I can tell you is that we are working extremely hard to secure the release of the detainees. We have been working very hard to do that over the past few months. We are in discussions as the prime minister has made clear, but I can’t say anything else at this stage.”
Detained since 2016
A British-Iranian dual national, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 after taking her daughter to visit family. She was detained at Tehran airport and accused of being a spy and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.
She was later sentenced to a further one year plus a one-year travel ban, prompting fears she would be sent back to prison.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe has been outspoken in calling for her release, including camping outside the Foreign Office in London on a three-week hunger strike in November 2021.
Her local MP has been among those calling for her immediate release.
Thank you all ever so much for such kind messages about my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It’s so heartwarming to see the affection for her.
Her husband Richard and I met earlier today for yet another strategy meeting… hopefully not many more!! #FreeNazanin pic.twitter.com/iAgm5YrkN3
— Tulip Siddiq (@TulipSiddiq) March 15, 2022
On Tuesday, Ms Siddiq tweeted: “Thank you all ever so much for such kind messages about my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It’s so heartwarming to see the affection for her.
“Her husband Richard and I met earlier today for yet another strategy meeting… hopefully not many more!!”