Johnson says ‘worth considering’ sending cash to settle £400m Iran debt

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Boris Johnson has said it is “worth considering” sending a plane with a “crate of cash” to Iran to settle a historic £400 million debt which Britain owes to Tehran.

The outstanding payment – relating to a cancelled order for 1,500 Chieftain tanks dating back to the 1970s – has been linked to the continued detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other UK-Iranian dual nationals held in the country.

Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee, Mr Johnson was pressed by former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt as to whether there was any obstacle to the UK simply repaying the debt.

Mr Hunt asked whether, if international sanctions meant such a payment could not be made through a bank, there was any other way of settling the obligation.

“If you can’t use a bank to repay it for various reasons why can’t we do what President Obama did in January 2016 and fly of a crate of cash to Tehran and just repay that debt?” he asked.

Mr Johnson replied: “It is certainly worth considering. But as you know there are complexities attached.

“It is also important to recognise that there are other UK-Iranian dual nationals in addition to Nazanin who form part of the equation and we have to be very sensitive to their needs as well.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held since 2016 (Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe/PA)

Their exchanges came amid growing calls for the Government to settle the debt as a way of ending the ordeal of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe – who has been held since her arrest in 2016 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government – and the other detainees.

She has always denied all charges against her.

Two other former foreign secretaries, Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, have also called for the money to be repaid.

Following talks with officials in London, earlier this week Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani was reported to have said the two sides had agreed on the amount owed but the UK had raised the issue of “limitations on banking interactions”.

Pressed by Mr Hunt on whether the debt could be repaid, Mr Johnson said: “Am I happy with the way things are at the moment? No.

“Should we be able to sort it out immediately with the snap of the fingers by repaying the IMS (International Military Services) obligations? Yes.

“In an ideal world that would be terrific but, as you know from your own experience, it is more complicated than that.”

The Prime Minister said the Government was working “as hard as we can” to secure Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.

“I continue to be horrified by the ordeal she has been through. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which she has dealt with it. It has been unbearable to witness and I know how much she wants to come home and to see her family,” he said.

“I can tell you we are working as hard as we can to ensure that we deliver that. It is not easy. If I could tell Nazanin now that we’d have her home for Christmas, I certainly would.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t make that promise. We will continue to do what we can.”

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