British nationals including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should not be used as political pawns in the ongoing clash with Iran, according to a UK minister.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said that disputes with Iran should be kept separate from the “arbitrary” detention of British nationals in Tehran.
It comes after Iranian state TV suggested Britain would pay a £400 million debt to free Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, citing an anonymous official.
However, UK officials have since downplayed the notion that the £400 million deal would result in the imminent release of the British-Iranian mother while Mr Cleverly described recent reports from Iran as “inaccurate”.
He told Sky News on Monday: “We have always said that British dual nationals should not be used as political leverage.
“We have also seen a number of occasions where the Iranian regime have used disinformation. We’re hearing inaccurate reports coming out over the last couple of days.
“On the one hand, they are saying that these proceedings are legitimate, we don’t agree with that at all, but then also saying that they are linked to this legal dispute. It can’t be both.
“We’re making it very, very clear. It is in the hands of the Tehran regime to release these people and they should be released.”
The legal dispute dates back to the 1970s when the then-Shah of Iran paid the UK £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.
Hopes were raised when Iranian state TV reported that the UK had agreed to pay the £400 million to see Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe released.
Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Cleverly said the dispute was a “completely separate issue” and should “absolutely not” be linked to the ongoing imprisonment of British nationals.
He said: “The charges against them are illegitimate, they’re unfounded, their incarceration is completely unacceptable and inappropriate.
“That is a completely separate issue to the legal dispute that is still ongoing with Iran. Iran should absolutely not be linking the two.”
The anonymous official was also quoted saying a deal had been made between the US and Tehran for a prisoner swap in exchange for the release of seven billion dollars, worth £5 billion, of frozen Iranian funds.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe will be released “after the payment of a military debt” the broadcaster said.
But Washington denied the report, saying suggestions of a prisoner swap were “not true”.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, 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 an additional one-year jail term.
She was also banned from leaving Iran for a further year.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe called for the Government to take actions against Iran rather than just talking.
His comments were echoed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who said the fresh sentence was “totally inhumane” and a “wholly unjustified decision.”