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Probe calls to investigate US and UK role in delay in Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release

March 22, 2022 at 1:11 pm

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) and Anoosheh Ashoori, who were freed from Iran, disembark after landing at RAF Brize Norton on March 17, 2022 in Brize Norton, England [Leon Neal/Getty Images]

A former minister of the ruling Tory party,  Alistair Burt, has urged for an inquiry into why it took the UK government six years to secure the release of  Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe when it had been known, from the outset, that the payment of historic £400 million ($522 million) debt to Iran would have seen her freed.

Burt, a Tory MP until 2019, is calling on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to launch an inquiry into why the debt was not paid. The probe will investigate who, within the UK government, resisted paying the debt and, furthermore, clear up speculation that the administration of former US President Donald Trump may have applied pressure on the UK against paying Tehran $522 million.

Burt is said to have repeatedly urged the UK government to clear the debt, which he said was “not a ransom, but a debt owed.” It relates to a 1970s arms deal between the UK and the Shah of Iran. Iran had made payment for the tanks, but the UK failed to deliver as promised after the Shah was deposed during the 1979 Iranian revolution.

“I believe now we need to find out who or what stopped the payments,” Burt said in his letter to the Committee.

It had taken five foreign secretaries and six years to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The 43 year-old was finally returned home last week immediately after the UK paid the debt it had owed Iran. Upon her return to the UK, Zaghari-Ratcliffe told the British press that the Islamic Republic had held its end of the bargain by releasing her as soon as the debt was paid.

READ: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe lands in the UK; reunites with family

The release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe has not only sparked a heated debate as to why it had taken so long to pay the debt owed to Iran; it has also become a source of embarrassment for Number 10.

There is growing speculation that the UK only agreed to secure the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe because it is seeking a broader geo-political agreement with Iran in an effort to further isolate President Vladimir Putin. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a global energy crisis. The UK and its Western allies are frantically looking to ease the pressure through new deals with major oil producing countries.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s trip to Riyadh last week was carried out with this goal in mind. It is not just allies that have been urged to increase oil production. Both Iran and Venezuela have been approached in what is a major U-turn in Western foreign policy in recent years.

Meanwhile in the UK, Jeremy Hunt, one of the five former foreign secretaries who failed to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release has come to her defence. The former hostage had criticised the UK government during a press conference yesterday. “I don’t agree with Richard on thanking the Foreign Secretary, because I have seen 5 Foreign Secretaries over the course of the 6 years. I was told many times that we’re going to get you home, but that never happened. I’m not going to even trust you,” said Zaghari-Ratcliffe, publicly disagreeing with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe.

The comments prompted criticism of Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was accused of being ungrateful. “Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation…” said Hunt on Twitter.