Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

Campaign for Iran detainees 'more difficult' after US drone strike

Husband of detained British charity worker called for a meeting with Boris Johnson

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held since April 2016 on what her family says are false charges of plotting against the government. AP
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held since April 2016 on what her family says are false charges of plotting against the government. AP

The husband of the imprisoned charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said the killing of Qassem Suleimani made it harder for all families caught in the middle of escalating tensions between US and Iran.

Richard Ratcliffe said the impact on foreign detainees of the drone strikes were not yet clear but would emerge following changes of leadership within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“For all of us now in the middle .... It will be more difficult,” he told British broadcaster ITV.

“I had been calling for a tougher line with Iran,” he said. “But it needs to be in a context where people can listen.”

He said he was concerned about what it might mean for his wife, who has been held since April 2016 on what her supporters and the UK government say are trumped up charges.

She is one of a number of dual nationals and foreigners who are being held in Iran. Supporters say they are being held as hostages and kept as leverage for prisoner swaps and to ensure payments of historic inter-country debts.

“Things are getting much worse again between the US and Iran, but also between all of us and Iran,” said Mr Ratcliffe. He said he was pressing for a meeting with the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure he continues working for the freedom of his wife.

“I sit here partly worried for what that means for Nazanin, partly worried what that means for my in-laws, sat in their ordinary living room in Tehran where they’re all really worried.”

A source close to the families said that the US government’s encouragement to its own citizens to leave Iraq because of the heightened tensions suggested anyone that remained in Iran was in precarious situation.

The attack that killed Qassem Suleimani followed a successful prisoner swap last month which allowed a US citizen, Xiyue Wang, held since 2016 for spying to be exchanged for an Iranian scientist arrested last year in Chicago.

One of Mr Trump’s less belligerent messages on Twitter – “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!” – was seen by the family of two detained as a potential opening to further talks that might include hostage releases.

"I hope that this will be seen as a sign of willingness on the part of the United States despite profound differences with Iran to engage in dialogue and to take actions to de-escalate tensions," said Babak Namazi, whose brother and father are held in Iran.

"Regardless of all else, I urge both American and Iranian leaders to engage in discussions on further exchanges that would benefit both countries and at the same time bring my family home."

Updated: January 4, 2020 08:43 AM

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