Nazanin and Anoosheh release from Iran took 'too long' admits former UK foreign minister
Former UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has conceded that it took the government too long to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.
The pair returned to the UK last week, after spending years jailed in Iran, on spying allegations, which were widely believed to be false.
Hunt, who served as the UK's foreign minister from 2018 to 2019, welcomed the return of the pair, describing it as an "extraordinary achievement", but also called for an independent inquiry into the years it took to secure their release.
The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he did "everything I could" to get them released when in office, but added that "it took too long".
"I think we all have to say 'could we have done it faster?' And I think the answer is we could have," Hunt said.
Speaking for the first time since her release at a press conference, Nazanin also queried why it had taken the UK government so long to secure her and Anoosheh's release.
"I have seen five foreign secretaries change over the course of six years. How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home?" she asked.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were able to leave Iran after the UK government arranged for the payment of a £400 million debt, which was owed to Iran, for undelivered tanks that dated back to the 1970s.
Nazanin spent six years in detention and Anoosheh five.
Hunt said that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson "deserves some credit" for arranging for the payment despite fears that it could be viewed as a ransom payment and encourage the kidnapping of other British citizens.
"But this is not a ransom, it's a debt, and I think that decision that we should pay it in principle was taken when I was foreign secretary," Hunt explained.
The former foreign secretary also came to the defence of Nazanin, who has faced some criticism online from people who were unhappy with her criticism of the UK government's actions.
"Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn't owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation," Hunt said.
Downing Street also dismissed any notion that Nazanin should not speak out against the government’s handling.
"As a UK citizen, someone in a free and democratic country, she is rightly able to voice her opinion on any topic she wishes," the prime minister's official spokesman said.
While the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori was secured, Morad Tahbaz, who holds British, Iranian, and American citizenship, remains detained in Iran.
Tahbaz was detained in 2018 while undertaking conservation work in Iran and accused of spying.
He was briefly released on the same day as Nazanin and Anoosheh, raising hopes that he would be released, but was later returned to prison.
According to Hunt, Tahbaz's American citizenship is being used by the Iranians to secure some concessions from the US.
"The Iranians want something from the Americans before they're prepared to release him," Hunt said.