Two British-Iranians fly from Iran, ending prison ordeal
DUBAI, March 16 (Reuters) – British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and dual national Anoosheh Ashoori left Iran on Wednesday, ending a long ordeal in which they became bargaining chips in talks between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. .
Omani state television said the couple arrived in the capital Muscat after their release in Tehran.
Earlier, a video released by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard-affiliated Tasnim news agency showed a woman dressed in black Iranian Islamic clothing boarding a Royal Air Force plane from Oman.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
“I am very happy to confirm that the unjust detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori in Iran has ended today, and they will now return to the UK,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, said the long ordeal finally seemed to be over. “It’s just a relief, the idea that we can be a normal family again, that we don’t have to keep fighting, that this long journey is almost over,” he told Reuters in front of his London home.
A statement from Ashoori’s family thanked everyone who worked for his release. “1672 days ago, the foundations of our family were shaken when our father and husband were wrongfully detained and abducted.
“Now we can expect to rebuild those same foundations with our cornerstone in place.”
Antonio Zappulla, CEO of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said his release was “a ray of light and hope” at a time when the world was in turmoil. The foundation is a charitable organization that operates independently of Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters.
In February, as months of talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal edged closer to a deal, Iran, which holds a dozen Western dual nationals, said it was ready for a prisoner swap. in exchange for the release of frozen assets and the release of Iranians. held in Western prisons.
The nuclear talks were close to an agreement 11 days ago until last-minute Russian demands for sweeping safeguards that would have hollowed out sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine derailed the talks.
Russia now appears to have reduced its requirements to cover only work related to the nuclear deal, leaving a small number of issues to be resolved between Washington and Tehran, diplomats say.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were freed after Britain repaid a historic debt.
Iranian clerical leaders say Britain owed Iran 400 million pounds ($520 million) which Iran’s former monarch, the Shah, prepaid for 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles. Almost none of them were eventually delivered after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed leader.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Britain was looking for ways to repay debt from the sale of main battle tanks to Iran’s former leader, the Shah.
“We have the deepest admiration for the determination, courage and determination shown by Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad and their families. They have faced hardships that no family should ever experience and that is a moment of great relief,” she said in a statement. declaration.
“In parallel, we also settled the debt of the IMS, as we said,” she added, referring to the debt of the military equipment. She said the debt had been fully settled in accordance with international sanctions against Iran and that the funds would be reserved for the purchase of “humanitarian goods”.
Senior Iranian diplomat Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Wednesday that Britain paid its debt days ago, denying any link between the payment of the $530 million debt and the release of prisoners.
Iranian justice and Britain confirmed the releases and state media said Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were handed over to a British team at the airport and left Tehran.
Separately, Britain said Iranian-American environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship, was released on Wednesday.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s protracted hardship began with her arrest by Revolutionary Guards at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016, as she attempted to return to Britain with her then 22-month-old daughter Gabriella. , after an Iranian New Year visit with his parents.
She was later found guilty by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. His family and the foundation have denied the accusation.
Ashoori was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2019 for spying for the Israeli Mossad and two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth”, according to Iranian justice.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had traveled to Iran in a personal capacity and had not worked in Iran. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is an independent charitable organization of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Additional reports by UK office; Written by Michael Georgy and Samia Nakhoul; Editing by Jon Boyle
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.