Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter
Image Courtesy of Amnesty International

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was right to ask why it had taken so long to secure her release from Iran when she spoke at yesterday’s press conference. It has taken six years and five foreign secretaries.

Philip Hammond (2014-2016)

Boris Johnson (2016-2018)

Jeremy Hunt (2018-2019)

Dominic Raab (2019-2021)

Liz Truss (2021-present)

Boris Johnson

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, Tulip Siddiq singled out Boris Johnson for particular criticism. Johnson’s careless talk, when he falsely stated that Nazanin had been in Iran, ‘simply teaching people journalism,’ when she was there to introduce her daughter to her parents, helped to strengthen the case against her in the eyes of the Iranian authorities that she was plotting against the Iranian government. Johnson had such a poor grasp of his brief that, when he met Richard Ratcliffe to apologise for that egregious error, he asked him if he had enjoyed his visit to Iran! Firstly Nazanin had travelled with her daughter. Richard stayed in Britain. Secondly, what planet was Johnson on, if he felt it appropriate to ask a man, did he enjoy himself on a trip where his wife was arrested!?

The Debt

In 1979 the Shah of Iran paid £400 million up front for the delivery of 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles. Then he was overthrown in a popular uprising against his barbaric and repressive regime. The UK government kept his money but refused to deliver the tanks. In 2013 when a diplomatic mission from Iran was granted visas to come to Britain to discuss this, they were detained on arrival and deported. The Home Secretary at the time, Theresa May, was Prime Minister when Nazanin received an initial sentence of 5 years in September 2016.

Successive prime ministers, Cameron, May and Johnson have all denied the debt was legitimate or that it was an issue in Nazanin’s arrest. It was finally acknowledged by the UK government as a legitimate debt in 2020, but the connection to Nazanin’s imprisonment was always denied. Nazanin herself has stated that she was told by her captors that it was connected. The Iranian News Agency announced that the debt was repaid on the day that Nazanin was freed. So draw your own conclusions.

Dual Nationals Still Detained

Liz Truss as good as suggested that another dual national would be released soon.

Morad Tahbaz was detained again, shortly afterwards. He has cancer and is reported to be on hunger strike. The latest news is that he has been moved from prison to a hotel. According to the Guardian, after a phone call with Liz Truss, his family believe that his joint US citizenship led the Foreign Office to leave him out of the deal in order to get Nazanin and Anoosheh home.

A very cold call between the family and Truss showed the family the British had chosen to make him America’s problem.

The left behind: the dual nationals still in jail in Iran | Iran | The Guardian

When Jeremy Corbyn asked Liz Truss about another dual national, Mehran Raoof, she claimed that she did not have his permission to raise his case in public. How is he supposed to give permission? He is a trade union and labour rights activist serving ten years in prison for belonging to an illegal organisation and is denied access to a telephone! Is there no end to the dysfunction at the heart of government?

Back to Ukraine

At least 17 dual nationals are being held in Iran, not all of them British. If you believe the government the release of Nazanin and Anoosheh and the repayment to Iran were parallel negotiations that just happened to coincide. Yeah, whatever. But what about oil? After Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, Iran has the third largest oil reserves in the world. Worth thinking about if you are trying to wean yourself off Russian oil in the light of their invasion of Ukraine. Again, the government deny any connection.

But there are renewed attempts to revive the Iran nuclear deal whereby Iran agreed to cut back its nuclear programme in return for an easing of sanctions. The UN and the US State Department agreed that the deal was working. But Trump insisted on designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation and pulled out of the deal. Trump has gone but things are complicated by the fact that Russia is also a signatory to the deal. What can they get out of a deal that eases the pain for the West of imposing sanctions on Russian oil while making it easier to buy Iranian oil?

Welcome to the world of realpolitik. Despite their claims to be acting out of respect for morality and justice, our rulers are as cynical and self interested as any despot. Say what you like about Putin. When it comes to hypocrisy we have him beat.

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