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UK Downplays Reports of £400 Million Deal With Iran to Free Woman Jailed for Spying

© REUTERS / ANDREW BOYERSFILE PHOTO: Richard Ratcliffe protests outside Iranian Embassy in London
FILE PHOTO: Richard Ratcliffe protests outside Iranian Embassy in London - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.05.2021
Iranian-born Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 before boarding a flight back to the UK and jailed for five years for sedition against the government. Hopes for her release last week were dashed when she was handed an additional one-year sentence for propaganda activities.

A British government source has downplayed reports of a £400 million deal with Iran to free jailed dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Lebanese news site Al-Mayadeen quoted un-named Iranian officials who said an agreement was struck after negotiations between the two governments. Iranian news network IRINN re-reported those claims.

The talks "led to an agreement to release Nazanin Zaghari by Tehran, who is accused of spying for British intelligence, in exchange for London freeing £400 million of Iranian money," sources said. 

London owes Tehran up to £400 million for an undelivered order of 1,500 Chieftain main battle tanks paid for by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979, months before the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the monarchy. The UK refused to either honour the order with the new regime or refund the payment.

But the British Foreign Office said only that talks over the debt were ongoing after four decades.

"We continue to explore options to resolve this 40-year-old case and will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing," a spokesman said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family said they were unaware of any payment in return for her release, their MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq tweeted. 

But British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab agreed with the BBC's Andrew Marr on Sunday morning that the dual national was being "held hostage".

European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora, Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi and Iran's ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog Kazem Gharibabadi wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria May 1, 2021. EU Delegation in Vienna/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.05.2021
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​Iranian journalist Negar Mortazavi tweeted that the rumours may have been circulated by Iranian "hardliners" in order to undermine talks taking place in Vienna towards bringing the US back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear energy deal and lifting oil sanctions on Iran.

​Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in 2016 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. She was due to be released last week, but was sentenced to an additional year in prison for propaganda against Iran.

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