Liz Truss – 2022 Statement on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori

The statement made by Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 16 March 2022.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the release of British nationals from detention in Iran—and, in parallel, on the repayment of the International Military Services debt. After years of unfair and unjust detention by the Government of Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori have, this afternoon, finally been allowed to board a plane and leave the country. They are on their way home. They will land in the UK later today and will be reunited with their families. Morad Tahbaz has also been released from prison on furlough. I know that the whole House and the whole country will rejoice at this news, and share in the relief that their horrendous ordeal is over.

Nazanin was held in Iran for almost six years, and Anoosheh almost five. Morad has been in prison for four. Their release is the result of years of tenacious British diplomacy. I want to thank our Omani friends and Minister Badr for their help in bringing our nationals home. I pay tribute to the efforts of many in this House, particularly the hon. Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby). I pay tribute, as well, to my predecessors, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who have all worked hard to resolve this issue. Most of all, I want to express my admiration for the incredible resolve and determination shown by Nazanin, Anoosheh, Morad and their families. I have been in contact with them throughout, as have our specialist consular teams. Their suffering has moved us all, and so does the prospect of their being reunited with their loved ones once again, after this long and cruel separation.

We secured the release, and Morad’s furlough, through intense diplomatic and political engagement at every level. We stepped up these efforts over the last six months. On becoming Foreign Secretary in September, I made resolving the issues of the continued detention of British nationals and the IMS debt personal priorities. In my first week, I spoke to the families of the detainees and met my Iranian counterpart, Minister Amir-Abdollahian. This was the first in-person meeting of a UK and Iranian Foreign Minister in three years. We agreed to work together to resolve the two issues in parallel. I dispatched a team of Foreign Office negotiators to hold intensive discussions with senior Iranian officials, in order to secure the release of our detainees. Officials travelled to Tehran for negotiations in October and November. A final round of negotiations took place in Muscat in February, resulting in this agreement.

Our ambassador in Tehran, Simon Shercliff, has also been in constant talks with Iranian Ministers and seniors officials. I spoke to Minister Amir-Abdollahian in October to progress the talks. In December, I met Minister Badr and secured Oman’s assistance in this important work. In February, I held discussions with Minister Amir-Abdollahian again, to drive the talks to a final conclusion. We will continue to push, with partners, to secure Morad’s permanent release and return home, which is long overdue. We will continue to support other British nationals in Iran who have asked for our help. We will work closely with our international partners to urge Iran to end its practice of unfair detention. It remains, and always has been, within Iran’s gift to release any British national who has been unfairly detained. The agonies endured by Nazanin, Anoosheh, Morad and their families must never happen again.

Our efforts to settle the IMS debt have also reached their conclusion. After highly complex and exhaustive negotiations, the more than 40-year-old debt between International Military Services and the Ministry of Defence of Iran has now been settled. As the House is aware, this debt relates to contracts signed with the Iranian Ministry of Defence in the 1970s. Following the revolution of 1979, those contracts could not be fulfilled. I pushed officials to be as creative as possible in finding a way to resolve the situation, and they have worked round the clock to find a viable payment route. We have considered and exhausted many options in the process. I can tell the House that we have found a way to make the payment in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and with global counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering regulations. A sum of £393.8 million has now been paid, which will be available only for humanitarian purposes. The terms remain confidential to both parties. We have long said that we would find a solution to the IMS debt. Now, thanks to the tireless work of our officials, we have found a way to do so.

The repayment of the debt, in parallel with the release of our nationals, reflects steps taken by both the UK and Iran to resolve issues of serious disagreement between our two countries. We will continue to stand up for our interests, for the freedom and security of our nationals wherever they are, and for an end to arbitrary detention. But for now, to Nazanin and Anoosheh, I am pleased that in just a few hours’ time we will be able to say: welcome home. I commend this statement to the House.