Biden would not bar UK paying Iran debt to secure Nazanin’s release - Antony Blinken

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (PA Wire)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (PA Wire)

The US Secretary of State has said Joe Biden would not stand in the way of the UK paying a long-standing debt to Iran in order to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family argue she is being held “hostage” over a historic debt owed by the British Government - but there are fears paying the money would breach international sanctions against Iran.

However, hopes of her release were boosted when Antony Blinken said on Thursday that any move to pay Tehran was a “sovereign” decision for the United Kingdom.

Asked if the US would stand in the way of the money being paid, Mr Blinken told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not want to get into the details of any negotiation. He stressed the US was engaged in talks in Vienna aimed at returning Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal after Donald Trump tore up the internationally-agreed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

British Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-RatcliffePA Media
British Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-RatcliffePA Media

Mr Blinken said the US had demonstrated their “very seriousness of purpose” in wanting to strike a new deal.

Pressed again on whether the US would stand in the way of the debt being repaid, he replied: “It’s a sovereign decision for the United Kingdom.”

Iranian officials told state media on Sunday that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, would be freed once Britain paid £400 million it acknowledges that it owes Iran from a 1980s deal over tanks.

A British court has ordered that the money be repaid but issues remain over any interest due and sanctions blocking payments to Iran.

The UK Government has repeatedly insisted that the debt and Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s incarceration are “separate issues”.

Ms ZaghariRatcliffe was recently sentenced to another year in prison, just weeks after she reached the end of a five-year sentence.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard and daughter GabriellaREUTERS
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard and daughter GabriellaREUTERS

She was first jailed in Tehran in 2016 on spying charges, which she has always denied.

During the interview Mr Blinken also provided an insight into broader US policy, saying the US would respond to reckless or aggressive acts by Russia.

He also said that agreeing a post-Brexit free trade deal between the UK and US will take “some time”.

He stressed the importance President Biden placed on ensuring that the gains of the Northern Ireland peace process were maintained.

Mr Blinken said he believed the US and the UK were “profoundly in sync” and added: “We want to make sure that, whether it’s with the United Kingdom or anyone else, any agreements reached are consistent with the principles that President Biden has established to focus on making sure that these agreements really advance the wellbeing of our workers and their families. That’s our focus.”

Mr Blinken was in the UK for a meeting of foreign ministers of the G7 group of industrialised nations.

Boris Johnson said on Monday Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and the debt were “two entirely separate issues”.

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