November 21, 2018
Jeremy Hunt has met the four-year-old daughter of a British mother jailed in Iran on spying charges as he called for her to be released.
The Foreign Secretary presented Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe with gifts including a John Lewis art set and a Peppa Pig book as he visited her in Iran.
Her imprisoned mother Nazanin, 39, who is from West Hampstead, North West London, had also made dolls for Gabriella and one of Mr Hunt’s daughters.
He tweeted that ‘no child should have to go this long without their mother’, while the Free Nazanin campaign said: ‘The family were very touched by his support.’
Mr Hunt was in Tehran as he allegedly pushed for the settlement of a £400million debt owed to Iran by Britain over hundreds of Chieftain tanks sold to the country in 1976 but never delivered.
Whitehall sources told The Times he is trying to settle the debt to help secure her release – but there are fears this could be seen as payment to release a hostage.
It comes after President Barack Obama settled the equivalent US version of the debt in 2016 – and, at the same time, Tehran freed five US-Iranian citizens.
The Chieftain tanks were blocked after the Iranian revolution of 1979 and most were not delivered – before eventually being sold to Iraq.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe said he had faith in Mr Hunt to ‘unlock’ things in a way his predecessor Boris Johnson had been unable to.
He said he wanted it to be ‘second time lucky’ after Mr Hunt flew into Iran to call for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be released – amid hopes she will be out by Christmas.
He became the first western foreign minister to visit Iran since the US pulled out of a nuclear deal and imposed sanctions.
Speaking from the country, Mr Hunt told the BBC: ‘We are very, very keen to move towards peace in Yemen. That’s our number one priority at the moment.
‘But also we have the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals here who are in prison and shouldn’t be. We want to get them home.’
As Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson was heavily criticised for his handling of the case.
He was accused of risking an additional five years being added to her sentence when he told MPs she had been in Iran to train journalists.
Mr Johnson was forced to apologise, retracting ‘any suggestion she was there in a professional capacity’.
Reacting to the visit, Mr Ratcliffe said he hoped his wife would be home for Christmas and her 40th birthday.
He said he was ‘very pleased’ with the way Mr Hunt conducted his visit to Iran, adding: ‘Let’s hope it leads somewhere.
He revealed that he had met with Mr Hunt’s team on Friday to discuss the visit to Iran, during which the Foreign Secretary is expected to meet the foreign minister and security representatives.
During an interview with Sky News, he said there were hopes that the Foreign Secretary would meet with the judiciary or the revolutionary guard, which are responsible for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s internment.
He revealed that Mr Hunt was also expected to meet with the couple’s four-year-old daughter Gabriella, who lives with her grandparents in Iran and plans to present him with a drawing of herself with Mr Hunt.
Asked whether he was more hopeful of his wife’s release following Mr Hunt’s appointment, Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘I hope it’s a case of second time lucky for us at this point.
‘We’re hoping that the Foreign Secretary is able to unlock things in a way that we were hoping Boris Johnson could unlock things, but in the end it didn’t work out. We need to wait to see what the reaction is.’
He added of Mr Hunt’s visit: ‘I’m hopeful that he’ll be clear that this has gone on for too long and it is time for this to be over and if we’re lucky Nazanin will be back for Christmas and back in time for her 40th birthday.’
Mr Ratcliffe added that he believed his wife was being used as a ‘political pawn’ by the Iranian regime.
In a statement released on Sunday, Mr Hunt warned the hardline Islamic regime against using ‘innocent British-Iranian dual nationals’ as political pawns.
Before setting off Mr Hunt said: ‘More than anything, we must see those innocent British-Iranian dual nationals imprisoned in Iran returned to their families in Britain.
‘I have just heard too many heartbreaking stories from families who have been forced to endure a terrible separation. So I arrive in Iran with a clear message for the country’s leaders: putting innocent people in prison cannot and must not be used as a tool of diplomatic leverage.’
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born in Iran and is married to an Englishman, Mr Ratcliffe. She works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
She was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was about to fly home to London with her two-year-old daughter.
She was later sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, a charge she vehemently denies. Her husband has campaigned ever since for her release.
The Daily Mail