The UK has told Iran it cannot pay a recognized debt of £ 400million to Tehran due to restrictions on banking transactions caused by international sanctions, Iran’s deputy minister said. Foreign Affairs.
Debt came to be seen as a precondition for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British-Iranian binationals held in Tehran. Richard Ratcliffe was on the 19th day of a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office on Thursday, urging him to pay the debt in order to secure his wife’s release.
Ratcliffe said he felt deflated and stuck after a meeting with Middle East Minister James Cleverly to discuss his wife’s possible return to the UK. He said, “It was like, you know, perfectly nice, sincere, caring, everyone in the room was caring. But you know we’re still stuck in the same status quo. We are still stuck in the same issues that caused us to end up on a hunger strike.
The Ratcliffe meeting followed talks between UK government officials and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani as part of preparations for resuming talks in Vienna at the end of the month on the terms of the return of the United States to the nuclear deal that Donald Trump abandoned. in 2018. Talks have been postponed since June after the Iranian presidential elections.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said Bagheri Kani “insisted on the need for Iran to urgently release all British nationals unjustly detained in Iran, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz “.
After the meeting, Bagheri Kani said the amount of payment to Iran, including interest, had been agreed to by both sides, revealing it was less than £ 500million.
He said: “Now what the UK government is raising is the limitations of banking interactions, saying it’s a difficulty, and ultimately they can’t do it.”
He also confirmed that the two sides were close to agreeing on terms for UK debt payment this summer. He said: “The UK government has failed to implement its commitments and you will have to ask them why. You have to ask the UK authorities why they will not pay the debt. “
The UK Foreign Office has been reluctant to discuss why a debt it acknowledges cannot be paid, or whether a sanctions-free mechanism could be found.
Asked whether repayment of the debt would facilitate bilateral relations, the deputy foreign minister said: “If these incidents are resolved, it should naturally influence relations between the two countries. But he stressed that the issue was separate from the detention of British Iranian dual nationals.
When asked if he had a message for Ratcliffe during his hunger strike, he replied: “We have Iranians who have been in prison in the UK for over 20 years. A man’s health is in danger and he is very weak. We work day by day with other countries for the exchange of prisoners. It is not very unusual. “