Oil, tanks, and a 2am tweet: what the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe affair tells us

Radcliffe family reunited

Six years after it started, the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe affair has come to a close. Sort of. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual-citizen of Iran and Britain, was first arrested in April 2016. Since then she has spent periods both in jail and under house arrest accused of espionage by the Iranian authorities. She denied the charges.

Insiders have long claimed that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment was less about espionage and more about debt. Specifically a long-running row between the British and Iranian governments about an arms deal for British tanks dating back to the 70s.

Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, fought a long public campaign for her release. On 16 March 2022 she was finally released and flown home alongside another released prisoner, Anoosheh Ashoori.

The current foreign secretary Liz Truss was on hand for a photo opportunity. Perhaps tellingly, the image was tweeted from her account at 2.16am. Hardly ‘Prime Time’ – but then the Tories have a lot to hide when it comes to this case:

Foreign Office

It’s not clear if the Ratcliffe’s will meet the prime minister Boris Johnson too. Any such gathering would likely be emotionally charged. The Tories – and the Foreign Office in particular – have good reason to avoid too much scrutiny. It was, after all, during the prime minister’s stint as foreign secretary that Johnson made Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation much worse.

In 2017, Johnson made comments that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Tehran training journalists. A suggestion which the Iranians claimed supported their view that she was a spy.

It was suggested, including by her husband, that Johnson’s comments directly compounded her predicament. During his hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in 2021, Richard Ratcliffe told the press that Johnson’s words were used by Iran to propagandise against his jailed wife.

Debt

Context matters here. The images of the Ratcliffe’s reunited are heartwarming. But there have to be questions about timing. For one thing, it appears the UK has finally paid its debt to Iran. The Guardian reports that £394m was paid on Monday

The debt related to a £650m order for Chieftain tanks and support vehicles by the Shah of Iran ahead of the 1979 revolution. These were never delivered. According to the Commons Library the UK recognised the debt was owed:

The UK Government accepts liability for an estimated £400 million debt owed to Iran. The debt is for undelivered armoured vehicles and tanks, originally ordered by the Shah but cancelled by the UK in response to his overthrow in the Iranian revolution of 1979.

But, they rejected the claim that the detention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe was linked to the deal:

However, the Government argues this is a separate issue to the detention of British-Iranian dual nationals and also rejects any link between detainees and the nuclear talks.

Now it seems that the UK has accepted that without payment, its highest profile detainees were going nowhere.

A danger to us all

Richard Ratcliffe himself wrote last year that Britain’s highly unaccountable arms trade is a danger to all citizens. He told Declassified UK in May 2021 that:

the money withheld by the British government is the reason Nazanin has been detained in Iran since her arrest in 2016 while on a family holiday with our then 22-month old daughter, Gabriella.

He claims the Iranian authorities themselves said so:

A few weeks after she was arrested, Nazanin was told by her interrogators from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that while there was “nothing in her case”, she was going to be held for leverage with the UK. Gradually they revealed she was being held to recover a debt.

That someone can be held for leverage in an arms deal that went sour decades ago should concern us all. And the UK’s arms trading is highly indiscriminate. We sell to virtually anyone: be they authoritarian allies like Saudi Arabia and notional enemies like Russia.

Oil politics

Yet payment of the debt is only part of the story. And a glance at the headlines will tell you why. Russian oil is going to be less accessible as sanctions pile up following the Putin regime’s invasion of Ukraine. Other sources must be found. It follows that a thaw between the West and Iran is on the cards.

Certainly, Iranian politicians seem to think so. A statement published by Al Jazeera Wednesday, and signed by 160 parliamentarians, said due to Ukraine, Iran had the upper hand:

Now that the Ukraine crisis has increased the West’s need for the Iranian energy sector, the US need for reduced oil prices must not be accommodated without considering Iran’s righteous demands.

The sense seems to be that Iran is now well positioned to push for, and benefit from, refreshed nuclear talks with the US and others.

Pawns in a game

It is heartening to see Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back home with her family. And her story can tell us much about geopolitics today. Hers is an extreme example of how all ours fates turn on the whims of global capital – in this case, the fossil fuel and arms trades – and of a set of blundering ruling class buffoons, for whom we are all just pawns in a game.

Featured image via screenshot/On Demand News, cropped to 770×403

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. This is criminal , she was used from the start as a political pawn by our government more than any other , our government needs held to account not just for this atrocitie but the murder of British people in so many ways !!!!!! I just can’t understand why people don’t care anymore , doing nothing IS taking part!!!!!!

    2. FFS Joe! AGAIN you drink the lamestream koolaid!

      Iran had VIDEO EVIDENCE she did what she was charged with. They didn’t need the For Sec to confirm it. The groups were infiltrated, they had footage of her entering the buildings, holding the training, and the ACTUAL TERRORISTS being trained.

      She was as guilt as Blair is for warcrimes.

      The only difference is she was punished for her actions.

      That’s not to delink the case from the debt – which was a further extension to her ordeal.

      BEAR in mind that the UK, & US, prevented through the sanctions regime critical life-saving medical equipment while Iran was dealing with the worst case of C-19 in the ME – directly causing 10s of thousands of deaths for innocent civilians.

      DO bear that in mind. Has Iran murdered 10s of thousands of Brits EVER?

      No.

      Let alone all the deaths ‘we’ caused there during our Imperial days (And ongoing).

      If she’d done this in our ‘ally’ the Saudi regime, she’d be a head shorter before you could blink.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.