British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe released from Iran, on her way back to UK

By | March 16, 2022

She spent almost five years in prison before she was released to house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran.

On Wednesday afternoon, British member of Parliament Tulip Siddiq, who has long campaigned for her release, tweeted a photo of the charity worker on a plane and said that she “now in the air flying away from 6 years of hell in Iran.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Wednesday that two dual nationals — Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori — “will return to the UK today.” A third, Morad Tahbaz, had been “released from prison on furlough,” she said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier Wednesday that a negotiating team was at work in Tehran to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

It has been a long battle to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose imprisonment has been a high-profile case in Britain for years. A BBC presenter choked up when announcing the news that she was heading to the airport.

In 2017, Johnson, who was foreign secretary at the time, was widely criticized when he said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “simply teaching people journalism” before her arrest — a claim her family and employer vehemently denied. Johnson later distanced himself from his comments.

Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency, calling Zaghari-Ratcliffe a “spy,” said in a report published Tuesday that her release came after Britain agreed to unfreeze more than $500 million in Iranian funds and release an unnamed Iranian citizen imprisoned in Britain. Fars said Ashoori was also being freed.

Britain and Iran have long been in talks over a debt of 400 million pounds ($524 million) that the United Kingdom owes Iran for not delivering tanks that Iran bought in the 1970s.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, who has campaigned tirelessly for his wife’s release, has previously said that she was being used as a political pawn in a dispute over the debt, as well as for leverage in the talks over the Iran nuclear deal.

The British government has said that the issues were not linked.

The release offered another hopeful sign that a revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal could be imminent. Talks in Vienna focused on an agreement to restore the deal, which lapsed after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2018, were put on hold last week after Russia made new demands related to the sanctions imposed as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.

But on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said those demands had been satisfied by language in the existing text of the draft agreement, which diplomats had been hoping to adopt earlier this month. He added that Russia still supports the restoration of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

An exchange of prisoners between Iran and the West was expected to occur alongside moves to finalize an agreement, diplomats say. Those could include at least four US citizens held in Iranian prisons and as many as 13 Iranians imprisoned in the United States.

There are still other outstanding issues to be resolved between the United States and Iran, which have been negotiating indirectly via intermediaries from the European Union, Russia and China.

One of the key issues from Iran’s perspective is a demand that the United States offer guarantees that no future president would be able to withdraw from the talks, as Trump did, according to a person familiar with the exchanges between Iran and the United States.

Such a guarantee is legally impossible for the United States to provide, but Iran may be coming around to the view that the deal may have to proceed without one, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.

Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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