Iran Says $535 Million U.K. Debt Dispute May Be Settled ‘Soon’
(Bloomberg) -- A top Iranian diplomat said that a 400 million pound ($535 million) debt owed by the U.K. over a decades-old military contract will hopefully be settled “soon,” and that the two countries were trying to work out how the payment can be made.
In an interview in London, Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and lead negotiator in forthcoming talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, said the matter had been discussed in his meeting with British Foreign Ministry officials Thursday.
In the U.K., public discussion of the debt has become inextricably linked with the fate of detained British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, though Bagheri Kani denied any such connection.
“The main issue about paying the debt and its level is agreed, but the method and process of how the payment is made hasn’t yet been resolved,” he said, adding discussions will continue in Tehran next week.
The minister said that the talks were “serious” and a step forward in bridging some differences. U.K. officials had raised the issue of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention, he said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an employee of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government, a charge she has repeatedly denied.
Latterly, according to her family, she was told by Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of the U.K.’s failure to pay the debt, which stems from a 1970s order for scores of tanks that Tehran bought but didn’t receive after the Islamic Revolution halted trade ties.
Bagheri Kani said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention is a “judicial issue that’s handled within the framework of the judiciary and has every chance of being followed up within the judiciary.”
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has for nearly three weeks been camped outside the Foreign Office in London on a hunger strike designed to force the British government to prioritize the case after she lost her latest appeal in Tehran last month. On Thursday, he met Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly, who earlier had held talks with Bagheri Kani.
“If I’m honest, quite a depressing meeting,” Ratcliffe told reporters following the discussions with Cleverly. “We asked about the debt and they wouldn’t talk about it, I mean really clammed up.”
Ratcliffe said he would carry on his hunger strike Thursday evening but had made a promise to his family that he would not take the measure “too far.”
In a statement, the U.K. Foreign Office said it had reaffirmed to Ratcliffe its commitment “to reuniting his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with her family in the UK.”
Bagheri Kani is on a tour of European capitals ahead of the resumption later this month of talks aimed at reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. He’ll lead the Iranian delegation once negotiations begin in Vienna.
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