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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

British foreign minister delivers toys to Iranian prisoner’s four year old

Jeremy Hunt brought gifts to Gabriella who is trapped in her mother’s homeland

Jeremy Hunt meets the four-year-old daughter of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Free Nazanin campaign
Jeremy Hunt meets the four-year-old daughter of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Free Nazanin campaign

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is pushing to settle a £400 million debt with Iran as part of what is seen as a deal to secure the release of British humanitarian worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held by Tehran on charges of spying since 2016.

Mr Hunt visited Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s four-year-old daughter Gabriella on Tuesday, upon his return from an official visit to Iran in which he lobbied for the woman’s release. "No child should have to go this long without her mother,” he said in a tweet, where he posted pictures of himself playing with the girl.

The foreign secretary is facing a cabinet battle to secure support for the move, amid fears that it would breach the sanctions regime reintroduced by the US against Iran as well as be seen as payment to secure the release of a hostage.

Britain does not pay ransom money for its citizens, according to its official policy. A similar deal proposed last year by Mr Hunt’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, was shot down.

Iranian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Hamid Baeidinejad said the amount was an outstanding debt and that it was not linked to the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is a dual British-Iranian national.

The timing of the announced payment - which has been an outstanding debt for over 40 years - has raised suspicion.

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Britain owes the sum for a cancelled arms deal in the 1970s. The deal would have seen the sale of 1,750 tanks and armoured vehicles to Iran, but the Persian monarchy was overthrown in 1979 and almost no vehicles were delivered. The money was never returned and the decade-long dispute lasts to this day.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband also dismissed the idea that the British government would pay in exchange for his wife’s release.

“It is wrong to link a completely separate debt issue with any other aspect of our bilateral relationship with Iran,” he said. "It is important that the UK honours its international legal obligations so that Iran can honour its legal obligations.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thompson Reuters Foundation, is accused of plotting to topple the Iranian government, an allegation strongly denied by the family and the British government.