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Officials downplay release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after Iranian TV suggested Britain would pay back debt

BRITISH officials have downplayed the prospect of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imminent release from Iran after state TV suggested today that Britain would pay a £400 million debt to secure her release.

The Foreign Office said “legal discussions are ongoing” over the debt despite the claim made on Iranian state TV, which cited an anonymous official.

It was said that the British government’s position had not changed over the weekend and that Iran had made the claim before without the mother-of-one being released.

The British-Iranian charity worker’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said the family had not been updated but welcomed the signals from Tehran over the long-running dispute as “a good sign.”

But he added that it “feels [like] part of the negotiations rather than the end of them.”

Earlier in the day, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the debt “is not actually the thing that is holding us up at the moment.”

The dispute dates back to the 1970s when the then shah of Iran paid Britain £400 million for 1,500 Chieftain tanks.

Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic when the shah was toppled in 1979 but kept the cash — despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to explore options to resolve this 40-year-old case and will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing.”

Mr Raab said it was clear the Iranians were using Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe as “leverage” and suggested authorities were holding her hostage in treatment amounting to torture.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, of north London, was detained in Tehran in 2016 while taking daughter Gabriella to see her family, as authorities made widely refuted allegations of spying.

She completed a five-year sentence in March, having carried out hunger strikes in protest over her treatment in jail as diplomatic efforts were made to secure her freedom.

But she and her family were delivered a fresh blow last week when she was given a further one-year jail term. She was also banned from leaving Iran for a further year.

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn, welcomed Mr Raab’s acknowledgement of torture and said she hoped the government “is doing all it can to get the hostage home.”

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