In January 2016, $400m (£290m) was flown by the United States to Tehran in the dead of night. Loaded on to wooden pallets on an unmarked plane, it was the first in a series of instalments to satisfy an unfulfilled American-Iranian arms deal signed in 1979, before the Shah was replaced in the revolution. On the morning after the payment, four American prisoners were released, boarding planes back to their homeland.
The White House insisted the payment and the release were coincidental. But General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), took to Iranian state media to proclaim:
‘Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies.’
Five years on, some high-ranking British politicians are lining up to suggest we should do something similar in order to secure Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.
In 2008, an international arbitration court ruled that the UK owed Iran £400m for an unfulfilled deal for Chieftain tanks. But Tehran and Downing Street have tussled over the exact amount owed and whether or not Britain should pay interest.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has endured an unspeakably nightmarish five years of detention, with solitary confinement, torturous conditions and rights abuses throughout. Her latest sentence of another year of cruel imprisonment is a disgrace, but there must be some limits in the extent to which Britain is willing to go to secure her release. Paying the £400m is one of those red lines that cannot be crossed.
Since the court made its decision, Iran has been busy conducting several anti-Western, violent campaigns. Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has funded and supported terroristic proxies that launch attacks on Western targets, including plots to bomb European cities.
The IRGC was designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in April 2019.