Commenting on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s return to the UK after being detained in Iran nearly six years ago, Dr Anicée Van Engeland, Associate Professor of International Security & Law at Cranfield University, said: “The news that Mrs Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released and is now on her way back to the UK came after it was announced yesterday that her British passport had been handed back. This follows UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announcing that the UK Government might be in a position to pay a £400 million debt the country owes to Iran.

“The decision to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is evidence of internal tensions over her situation and that of other foreign nationals held in Iran. It is also to be seen in a broader international context, namely that of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Iran’s position over the invasion is far from being simple: while the Iranian authorities seem at first to support Russia’s geostrategic interests in the region, it seems that the fate of the nuclear agreement would have changed the mind of the authorities. Indeed, after 11 months of discussions between the United States, the UK, the EU and Iran, and a couple of days before an announcement that the nuclear deal was well on its way, Russia declared it wouldn’t support the negotiations anymore. The nuclear agreement is therefore effectively being taken hostage by Russia.

“The Russians are concerned that part of the new nuclear agreement would enable Iran to freely access the international oil market, further reducing dependence on Russian oil.

“The Iranian minister of foreign affairs left for Russia today to discuss the fate of the agreement, and to offer the services of Iran in mediating Russian-Ukrainian discussions. The Iranian minister of foreign affairs spoke with the Ukrainian prime minister: it then emerged that Iran would prefer a peaceful solution to the current conflict. Support for Russia has diminished among the Iranian political establishment as a result of the decision to take the nuclear agreement hostage.

“This background could explain why Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released, as a sign of political and economic rapprochement with Europe: if the new nuclear deal is signed, Iran will have new markets to explore. Yet, the Iranian authorities also need to find agreements with Russia as they have commercial interests in the east, in Russia’s sphere of influence.”

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