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UK PM says he’d consider cash to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran

Published: Updated:

Boris Johnson said he would “certainly consider delivering cash directly to Iran by plane to settle an old UK debt, if it meant Tehran would free detained British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

But the British prime minister also warned there are “complexities attached to her case, which he said were linked to those of other dual nationals held prisoner in Iran. Iran has said there is no link between the 400 million pounds ($540 million) debt for undelivered weapons, and the detainees’ fate.

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Johnson was asked in Parliament on Wednesday if he would follow the lead of former US President Barack Obama, who approved a $400 million cash transfer to Iran in 2016 -- the same day an international nuclear deal was implemented and several American prisoners were released.

That international accord foundered after former US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran -- though talks on resurrecting it are due to begin this month -- and those penalties might block any UK effort to transfer the money it owes through a bank.

“It’s certainly worth considering, Johnson told the powerful House of Commons liaison committee, when asked about a potential cash delivery.

Johnson’s comments come after Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani told Bloomberg last week that the debt owed by the UK over a decades-old military contract will hopefully be settled “soon, and the two countries are trying to work out how the payment can be made.

Johnson said it had been “unbearable to witness the ordeal of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government, a charge she has repeatedly denied.

The UK prime minister is inextricably linked to her case since he wrongly told Parliament in 2017 -- when he was foreign secretary -- that she had been in Iran to train journalists. The comments were seized on by an Iranian court as proof of her guilt, and Johnson later retracted his words and apologized.

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