New Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will tell her Iranian counterpart that the UK is “not going to drop” the fight to get British dual nationals being held by the state home, a Cabinet minister has said.
Ms Truss is due to meet the Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday where the release of dual nationals – including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – is expected to be at the top of the agenda.
And Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said Ms Truss and the wider Government “will not rest until we get them all home”.
On Monday, Mr Cleverly refused to say how many British dual nationals were being held in Iran.
He told LBC: “I’m not going to discuss that this morning because, actually, it’s not always in the best interests of the people that we’re trying to help.”
He added: “It’s not always in the best interest of the individuals for their cases to be publicised.”
Pushed by host Nick Ferrari as to whether he knew the figure, he said: “I do, I work on this all the time.”
But he told Sky News: “We will continue pushing and we will not rest until we get them all home. Their incarceration is arbitrary, it’s completely unjustified and we have made it clear that we will not stop working to get those British dual nationals home.”
Asked how confident he was that Ms Truss would succeed where others had failed, he said: “Well, it is never easy negotiating with the Iranian leadership.
“But I have no doubt that she will … She’s an incredibly focused and energetic minister, she’s well-regarded for that, and I have no doubt that she will apply that energy to these negotiations.”
Ms Truss is expected to bring up the cases of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz, and will also call on the country to comply with its nuclear commitments.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard reported he had “good” talks with Ms Truss ahead of her meeting and that he told the Foreign Secretary during a 10-minute phone call on Sunday that his wife’s case should be the top priority and he wanted to see the Government tackle hostage-taking head on.
Ms Truss said: “I will be asking Iran to ensure the immediate and permanent release of all arbitrarily detained British nationals in Iran, and to begin working with us to mend our fractured relations.
“The UK, US and our international partners are fully committed to a nuclear deal, but every day that Iran continues to delay talks whilst escalating its own nuclear programme means there is less space for diplomacy.”
Mr Ratcliffe’s wife, a British-Iranian dual national, has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Mr Ratcliffe earlier said that he had given Ms Truss the names of 10 people he accuses of being involved with “hostage-taking” in Iran.
He called on the Foreign Secretary to ensure Iran is made aware this is an “unacceptable practice”.
Mr Ratcliffe added: “I thought it was a good phone call, I am pleased it happened, but also surprised that it happened so quickly – I’m sure we’ll have more strident conversations after she has returned from New York.
“The chat was more open than you would have thought, she definitely listened to me which is obviously a good sign early on, but I’m always pessimistic, having had this conversation with her predecessors.
“The situation is still so delicate and ambiguous, however it’s possible that Nazanin could be returned home and it’s possible she could be put back in jail.
“At this stage it would be useful to see more action rather than reassuring words – but this is a positive step, there was a clear dialogue there.”
Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, said: “One of the things we’d like to see most urgently from the new Foreign Secretary is a clearly articulated strategy for securing the release of British nationals arbitrarily detained in Iran.
“The plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and other UK nationals held in Iran has extended across the last four foreign secretaries – it’s long past time that the UK finally brought this deeply distressing episode to an end.”
Mr Cleverly told LBC: “We have made it clear to the Iranians and Liz (Truss) will make it clear to the Iranians that we are not, as I say, we are not going to drop this.
“We will always fight on behalf of all the British dual nationals in detention and the negotiations that we’re having with Iran will continue until this is resolved.”