Britain is looking at ways to pay a historic 400 million pound ($522 million) debt to Iran, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday, adding that she would not say if it had been settled already.
Iranian state media in 2021 cited unidentified Iranian officials as saying that the British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be freed once the debt had been paid.
Truss was asked by Sky News if Zaghari-Ratcliffe was going to be able to return to London soon. She said she had made her case a priority, and added that she had also made repaying the Iranian debt a priority.
"We have been clear this is a legitimate debt that we do owe Iran and we have been seeking ways to pay it," Truss said. She added that there was a British team in Iran but would not give any further details.
Iran's clerical rulers say Britain owes the money that Iran's Shah paid up front for 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles, almost none of which were eventually delivered after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 toppled the U.S.-backed leader.
The British and Iranian governments say there is no connection between the debt and the legal case.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.
Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.
Her family and the foundation on Tuesday declined to comment on a tweet by British lawmaker Tulip Siddiq that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had had her passport returned, increasing hopes that she would be released.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who served most of her first sentence in Tehran's Evin prison, was released in March 2020 during the coronavirus
pandemic and kept under house arrest at her parents' home in Tehran. In March 2021, she was released from house arrest but she was summoned to court again on the new charge.
In April 2021, she was then sentenced to a new term in jail on charges of propaganda against Iran's ruling system, charges she denies. However that sentence has not yet started and she is banned from leaving the country.
($1 = 0.7662 pounds)