Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe husband hails UK-Iran talks as 'breakthrough'

Officials will meet Iran's deputy foreign minister this week to request her release

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of detained charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, continues his hunger strike in London. AP
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Richard Ratcliffe has hailed talks between the UK and Iran as a “breakthrough” in his quest to end Tehran's imprisonment of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The meeting on Thursday comes as Mr Ratcliffe endures his 19th day on hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London.

Mr Ratcliffe began his demonstration last month after his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran, saying his family is “caught in a dispute between two states".

It has attracted several famous supporters including Strictly Come Dancing co-host Claudia Winkleman, writer and presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell, and opposition Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Iran's London trip augurs well

Iranian deputy foreign minister Bagheri Kani is due to meet officials from the FCDO, and Mr Ratcliffe will meet Foreign Office minister James Cleverly afterwards.

“I'll be meeting him just after he's met with the Iranian deputy foreign minister, so essentially it will be to find out what's happened, where are we,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

“I guess I'm looking for some kind of a breakthrough. The point of a hunger strike is you hope to sort of shake things up and move things forward, so fingers crossed.”

Mr Ratcliffe said it is a “breakthrough” in itself that Iranians are coming to the capital” as it's been “many years since an Iranian minister has come".

“This is the chief negotiator for Iran who is coming. Obviously our case is associated with all the wider manoeuvrings around the nuclear deal and everything else.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

She was taking the couple's daughter, Gabriella, to see her family when she was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four years in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

According to her family, she was told by Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of the UK's failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.

Asked if he is in any doubt that the UK government thinks the country should pay the debt owed to Iran, Mr Ratcliffe was unequivocal.

“The prime minister, back in the day when he was foreign secretary, promised he would pay it …

“He also, when we met him behind closed doors a couple of years back now, was certainly keen to try and get Nazanin home and said 'We'll leave no stone unturned'.

“I've had clear conversations with the foreign secretary, had letters from the defence secretary, so there is a sort of a head scratching as to 'Well, how come it's not been solved?'"

He revealed he worried that her second jail term indicated a hardening of the Iranian stance.

“We asked Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary, but she wouldn't say to us. My fear is — and it's the fear from that new sentence that was given to Nazanin — the Iranians aren't persuaded and they're ready to show their claws.”

Updated: November 11, 2021, 9:51 AM