Zarif: Britain is a ‘thief’ if it links debt payment to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release

October 5, 2020 - 18:12

TEHRAN – Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said the British government is a “thief” if links the payment of Iran’s debt to the release of dual British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“If they continue this path, it would mean before the world’s public opinion and even Britain’s that England is a thief,” Zarif told Kar-va-Kargar newspaper in an interview published on Sunday. “It doesn’t mean that Iran is a hostage taker,” he added.

The UK is thought to owe as much as £400m to the Iranian government arising from the non-delivery of Chieftain tanks ordered by the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

International arbitration in 2008 ruled the UK owed the debt, but in subsequent protracted court battles, lawyers acting for International Military Services, the Ministry of Defense’s now-defunct arms sales agency, have questioned not only the debt’s size but at times whether any debt was payable.

Zarif said for forty years the British haven’t paid the money, which belongs to the Iranian people. “Therefore, they do not have the right to set terms and conditions for its repayment.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, has been detained in Iran for more than four years on charges of trying to orchestrate a soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

The prosecutor general of Tehran had stated in October 2017 that she was being held for running “a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran.”

On November 1, 2017, Boris Johnson, who at the time was Britain’s foreign secretary, said, “When we look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very limit.”

On June 24, 2019, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Zaghari-Ratcliffe will serve out her five-year prison sentence, dismissing a call for her release by a British minister visiting Tehran.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, claimed last month that she is being held as a hostage in Iran.

Zarif strongly rejected the claim.

“You need to know that the foreign ministries of Iran and England are currently in a serious, day-and-night negotiation over the payment of the Iranian nation’s assets, especially in such difficult circumstances of sanctions and the coronavirus,” the minister said.

At the same time, he continued, there’s also a negotiation about an exchange of prisoners between the two countries. “No can mix up these two separate negotiations.”

Last month, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace acknowledged for the first time that he is actively seeking to pay the debt to Iran to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

According to The Guardian, Wallace said the government was exploring every legal avenue to pay the debt, which for the first time he formally acknowledged the British government owes to Iran.

Tehran was quick to deny any connection between the two cases, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh saying “the British government has a definite 40-year long debt to Iran and it doesn’t matter whether a British official acknowledges this debt or not.”

“The paying of Iran’s debt by Britain has nothing to do with the release of dual national prisoners,” Khatibzadeh said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has on several occasions stated that the Judiciary is an independent body in Iran.

“You surely know that the Foreign Ministry has no stance in the Judiciary,” Zarif said during the interview. “I mean I can’t go in my country’s court and give my opinion about a convict who is in prison and is of Iranian origin.”

“The Judiciary is completely independent in this regard,” he added.

MH/PA

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