A British-Iranian woman held prisoner in Iran for nearly six years has been freed and is returning home to the United Kingdom after the U.K. government negotiated to pay a historic debt the Iranian government claimed was owed to the Islamic theocracy.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was imprisoned in Iran in 2016 after the authoritarian regime accused her of being a spy and of plotting to overthrow the government. She and her family denied the charges, insisting she was on vacation with her daughter to visit family in Tehran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent nearly five years in prison before she was released to house arrest in her parents' home, the Washington Post reports.
Iranian state media reported Wednesday that Zaghari-Ratcliffe and another dual national, Anousheh Ashouri, left the country after the U.K. government paid more than $500 million to Teharn, according to Reuters.
That money was part of a debt Iran's theocratic rulers claimed the British government owed after the shah of Iran purchased 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other weapons from the United Kingdom in the 1970s. But the U.K.'s International Military Services never delivered those weapons because the Islamic Revolution of 1979 toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. The order was canceled even though the previous Iranian government had paid in advance for it, and the Islamic regime that replaced the shah's government has since demanded the repayment of those funds.
Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin's husband, who has tirelessly protested and advocated for his wife's release, had previously accused Iran of using his wife as a political hostage in the country's dispute over the debt.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss confirmed in a statement Wednesday that "we have also settled the IMS debt" after announcing Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release.
The British government has denied that the two issues are related.
Earlier this year, however, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not deny there were efforts to negotiate Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release by settling the debt dispute with Iran.
On Feb. 9, British member of Parliament Tulip Siddiq said she had learned of a deal signed between the U.K. government and Iranian authorities in the summer of 2021 "that would have resulted in the payment of the £400m that we owe Iran and the release of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe," but that deal had fallen through, according to Sky News.
Siddiq asked Johnson to meet with her and Richard Ratcliffe to explain why the deal had collapsed.
"The International Military Services, or IMS, debt is difficult to settle and square away for all sorts of reasons to do with sanctions. But we will continue to work on it and I will certainly make sure that we have another meeting with Richard Ratcliffe in due course," Jonson said in response, suggesting the IMS debt was in-fact part of the negotiations to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release.
Foreign Secretary Truss said in her statement that resolving the IMS debt payment and securing the release of detained British nationals were "my top priorities" upon assuming office in September 2021.
"Last month I spoke twice to Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian in a final push to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion. Our officials then held a last round of negotiations to sign off an agreement allowing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori to return to the UK, and Morad Tahbaz to be released on furlough to his house in Tehran," Truss said.
"The IMS debt has been settled in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and all legal obligations. These funds will be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods."