Iran, UK Deny Debt Repayment’s Connection to Other Issues

Iran and Britain aim to overcome a series of stumbling blocks preventing an improvement in bilateral relations, including restrictions on Iranian companies and individuals operating in the UK
Iran, UK Deny Debt Repayment’s Connection to Other IssuesIran, UK Deny Debt Repayment’s Connection to Other Issues

Iran's ambassador in London denied UK media speculations connecting the British government's decision to pay a four-decade debt to Iran to the case of the dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Iran over security charges.

Hamid Baeidinejad made the statement while talking to reporters in London on Thursday, echoing Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi who rejected any connection between the UK debt and Zaghari's case earlier in the day.

Separately on Thursday, the UK government also rejected any link between the payment and its efforts to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 just before she was set to leave Iran where she had to come to meet her family.

She is now serving a five-year jail sentence for clandestine efforts to spread propaganda against the Iranian government.

On Wednesday, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph reported that the UK was preparing to repay the debt to secure Tehran's "goodwill" and speed up Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release from jail.

"The settlement of the £450 million debt by the UK related to the 1974 [and 1976] arms deal has nothing to do with the case of Nazanin Zaghari who has been imprisoned over security charges, or other issues," IRNA quoted Baeidinejad as saying.

Baeidinejad said the debt dates back to the 1970s when Iran signed two deals to buy hundreds of Chieftain tanks and other military vehicles from a British state-run firm.

"Britain received an advance payment from Iran and delivered some tanks in the next few years, but it stopped adhering to its deal commitments after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that toppled the US-backed monarch," he explained.  

Of note, the British government sold the remaining tanks to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to be used against Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.  

Baeidinejad said shortly afterwards, Iran lodged a complaint with the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands, which in 2001 found the British side guilty for failing to fulfill its commitments under the two agreements.

The Iranian ambassador said the two sides were wrangling over the precise sum of money the British government owed Iran for years, and they eventually gave ground over the sum in 2009.  

"However, the British side continued to drag its feet over resolving the debt, claiming EU economic sanctions against Iran were blocking its settlement," he said.

But the removal of sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal removed the excuse and the British government has now decided to settle the longstanding debt.

"We regret that some British media outlets are trying to draw a connection between this case and issues raised in British politics. This is a complicated case that has been pursued for a very long time and has no relation with other issues," he said.

In a post on his Telegram channel on Friday, Baeidinejad said the payment will be made in the coming days, ending the four-decade legal dispute.


Johnson's Visit

Baeidinejad told reporters on Thursday Johnson's trip, expected within the next few weeks, is aimed at overcoming a series of stumbling blocks preventing an improvement in bilateral relations, including restrictions on Iranian companies and individuals operating in the UK.

"Discussions on other aspects of Tehran-London relationship and regional conflicts are also on the agenda," he said.

The envoy said Iran may agree to measures to improve Zaghari-Ratcliffe's conditions over humanitarian grounds, but her case has nothing to do with political issues.

Her case drew considerable attention after Johnson suggested earlier this month she was training journalists in Iran, contradicting claims by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity organization affiliated with Thomson Reuters media organization, that she was simply on holiday visiting relatives.

Johnson came under pressure to resign after his comments, which confirmed assertions by the Iranian judiciary that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching people how to secretly prepare anti-government content and send them to the Persian service of BBC.

According to her career record, she worked for BBC Media Action, the charitable arm of the corporation, for around 18 months.

Iran does not recognize dual nationality for its citizens and treats Zaghari-Ratcliffe solely as an Iranian.

Johnson apologized for his remarks on Monday, claiming they were misstatements.

The top British diplomat has vowed to make every effort to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

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