Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araqchi fired back at the British prime minister for urging the Islamic Republic to release a convicted dual national, saying London has taken Tehran's own money "hostage" in exchange for the inmate.
“[The] UK tries to blackmail Iran by taking our OWN money – illegally kept for more than 40 years – hostage in exchange for prisoners,” Araqchi tweeted Saturday, in response to Boris Johnson who has urged Iran to release Anoosheh Ashoori, an Iranian-British citizen convicted of espionage in Iran.
“This is never going to work,” Araqchi pointed out, saying that Tehran and London "have a deal".
“Time for UK to do [the] right thing and stop letting US to sabotage humanitarian exchange,” the Iranian official stressed.
Johnson on Friday called on Iran to "do the right thing" and "immediately" put an end to the "wrongful detention" of Ashoori.
He claimed that Ashoori and other British nationals have been "unjustly imprisoned" in Iran.
Ashoori, who previously lived in southeast London with his family, was detained in August 2017 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for cooperating with Israel’s spy agency Mossad and two years for obtaining 33,000 euros in “illicit funds” nearly a year later, Tasnim News Agency wrote.
The UK is in debt to Iran, arising from the non-delivery of 1,500 Chieftain tanks and 250 other armored vehicles ordered by the then Shah of Iran before his overthrow in 1979.
In January 2019, a top court in Britain dismissed a complaint lodged by Iran seeking at least £20 million in interest for the debt related to the defense deals.
Judge Stephen Phillips from the High Court in London ruled that the UK does not have to pay the sum that Iran believes has accrued on £387 million owed to Tehran over the failed delivery of more than 1,500 Chieftain tanks and armored vehicles based on contracts signed as of 1971.
Britain has repeatedly refrained from paying the debt it acknowledges it owes to Iran, citing illegal sanctions imposed by the United States on Tehran.
US 'political goals’
In another tweet on Friday, Araqchi also said the United States prevents the release of dual nationals as it has taken the detainees “hostage” in order to obtain “political goals”.
His tweet came after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab demanded that Iran’s new President Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi release Ashoori.
Araqchi blamed Britain’s “friends” in Washington for freezing an agreement on a humanitarian prisoner exchange between Tehran and London.
“You know better than anybody else that deal for release of 10 prisoners – including Anoosheh Ashoori – was concluded weeks ago but your friends in DC froze it,” he said.
“Ashoori and 9 more are taken hostage by US for political goals,” the top Iranian diplomat added.
In July, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh rejected the United States’ denial of the agreement on the prisoner exchange, expressing Tehran’s preparedness to immediately proceed with the deal already agreed with Washington and London, Press TV wrote.
He denounced as "outrageous" the US denial of the fact that "there is an agreed deal on the matter of the detainees" and "even on how to announce it”.