UK PM Johnson Tells Iran’s Rouhani to Let British-Iranian Aid Worker Return Home

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with Britain's Boris Johnson during their meeting in Tehran December 9, 2017.

LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be allowed to return home to be with her family.

“The prime minister raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British-Iranian dual nationals detained in Iran and demanded their immediate release,” a statement from Johnson’s office said after a call with Rouhani on Wednesday.

“He (Johnson) said that while the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle monitor was welcome, her continued confinement remains completely unacceptable and she must be allowed to return to her family in the UK.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation charity, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She denied the charges.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe served a five-year sentence which ended on Sunday. An ankle bracelet was removed, allowing her freedom to travel in Iran, but she still cannot leave the country, as she has been ordered to appear for a new court case on March 14 on charges of propaganda against the Iranian state.

Johnson also restated Britain’s commitment to making a success of a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and urged Rouhani to end Iranian breaches of the terms of that deal that began after the United States withdrew from it in 2018.

“He stressed the importance of Iran seizing the opportunity presented by the United States’ willingness to return to the deal if Iran comes back into compliance,” the statement said.

Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving the deal.

Rouhani reportedly raised the issue of a 400 million pound historical debt which Tehran says Britain owes the Islamic Republic in capital and interest for a 1970s arms deal with the then-Shah of Iran.

“While we see that most of the countries are repaying their debts to Iran or unblocking Iran‘s frozen assets, it is very strange that no practical progress has been made by Britain to pay back its ‘defence debt,” Iranian media quoted Rouhani as saying during the call.

Asked about the debt this week, Johnson’s spokesman said the government continued to explore options to resolve that case, but rejected any linkage between paying the debt and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.

“The UK does not and never will accept dual nationals being used as diplomatic leverage. The money … is a long-standing case relating to a historic debt owed to pre-revolution Iran,” the spokesman said on Monday.

(Reporting by William James, additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai Editing by Mark Heinrich and Catherine Evans)