Iran tells UK to be nice if it wants Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back

Ambassador said criticism of its conduct by Britain will not help detainee's cause

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Iran’s ambassador to the UK has said it is “bizarre” for Britain to expect it to bow to demands and release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe while at the same time criticising its conduct.

Speaking at the Iranian embassy in London, Mohsen Baharvand said relations between the two countries and discussions about the fate of the mother-of-one must be treated as “a package”.

He said he is “not happy” that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen, is detained in Iran and her imprisonment “doesn’t add something to us”.

But he suggested Britain could not expect the Iranian government to “be very nice” when dealing with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe when Britain is making scathing reviews of Tehran’s actions.

Mr Baharvand said he found it “bizarre” that the UK would consider Iran as a “supporter of terrorism” and a “violator of human rights” while also pleading for the release of a citizen.

“They tell you that you are making a mess in the region and when it comes to the bilateral regions or when we have something, you just ask that country to be very nice. I mean, that’s a package,” he told ITV News.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Iran in 2016 as she prepared to fly back to the UK, having taken her daughter Gabriella — then less than 2 years old — to see relatives.

She was accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four years in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

In this undated photo provided by the Free Nazanin Campaign, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugs her daughter Gabriella, in Iran.  Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been allowed to leave an Iranian prison for three days, her husband said Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested during a holiday with her toddler daughter in April 2016. Iranian authorities accuse her of plotting against the government. Her family denies this, saying says she was in Iran to visit family. (Free Nazanin Campaign/via AP)

She remains in Iran at her parents’ home, with an appeal against her latest conviction having been rejected. She has always denied all charges against her.

A £400 million ($532m) debt that Britain owes to Iran — relating to a cancelled order for 1,500 Chieftain tanks dating back to the 1970s — has been linked to her detention.

Mr Baharvand’s comments came just weeks after Richard Ratcliffe ended a three-week hunger strike to raise awareness about his wife’s situation.

He has long said his wife is being used as a “bargaining chip” in the UK’s frayed relationship with Iran.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week called Iran a “hostile nation” at a luncheon hosted by Conservative Friends of Israel.

This week talks to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, meant to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, started in Vienna.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) was negotiated under former US president Barack Obama, three years before his successor Donald Trump pulled the US out of it in 2018.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the latest round of international talks mark the “last opportunity” for Iran to revive the deal.

Speaking at a joint press conference, held alongside her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, Ms Truss said the UK will “work flat out to prevent the Iranian regime from gaining nuclear weapons” and that “all options are on the table” if the discussions fail.

“We are absolutely determined to prevent Iran from securing a nuclear weapon,” Ms Truss told reporters.

“Talks are starting in Vienna today. We want Iran to agree to the original JCPoA that is very important.

“And we want those talks to work. But if they don’t work, all options are on the table.”

Updated: March 17, 2022, 10:44 AM