Relatives call on Iran to release hostages before any nuclear deal

Former prisoners and families call for release of dual citizens as condition for resuming 2015 accord

FILE PHOTO: Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and their daughter Gabriella protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London, Britain March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers/File Photo
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More dual citizens would be seized and wrongfully jailed in Iran if the US failed to link the fate of foreign hostages to restoring the Iran nuclear deal, families told President Joe Biden’s administration.

All prisoners must be freed and Tehran must commit to stop taking hostages as a condition of resuming the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, a letter signed by 20 families of detainees and former inmates said.

Efforts to bring the US back into the 2015 deal will be increased on Tuesday as the five world powers remaining in the accord meet Iranian officials in Vienna. The US and Iran will start talks through intermediaries.

Hostage Aid Worldwide, the group behind the letter, said the release of US prisoners was “anything but a priority” for Mr Biden’s administration before resuming the nuclear deal.

At least 16 US and European dual citizens are held by Iran.

“It is the view of Hostage Aid Worldwide that this approach will be unhelpful,” it said.

“It is crucial that they seize the opportunity to learn from previous mistakes when some hostages were left behind pending planned good-will gestures from Iran, which never materialised.”

The group called for the release of all foreign hostages as a condition for the start of any talks with Iran.

It wanted talks to be halted if more people were taken and a clause allowing for sanctions to be reimposed should Tehran breach any deal.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who remains in Tehran despite completing her five-year jail term on trumped-up espionage charges, said Tuesday's talks were a chance to make amends after failures in dealing with Iran.

“Western diplomats should be in no doubt when they sit down on Tuesday that the hostages need to come home first, or else more lives will be collected and it will continue to become more complicated to bring them home,” Mr Ratcliffe said.

Former president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord in 2018, imposing what he called a “maximum-pressure campaign” of sanctions.

Since then, Iran has been steadily breaking the restrictions of the deal, such as the amount of uranium it can stockpile and the purity to which it can be enriched.

Tehran’s moves appear calculated to put pressure on the other nations in the deal – Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain – to do more to offset the sanctions reimposed by Mr Trump.

On his inauguration, Mr Biden said that returning to the accord to limit Iran’s nuclear programme was a priority.

The countries are at odds over Iran’s demands that sanctions should lifted first.

“No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.