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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe flies home to UK after release by Iran

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ears of joy were shed as the families of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were reunited with their loved ones in the early hours of Thursday morning after years of a “long and cruel separation” caused by their detention in Iran.

The pair touched down on British soil at RAF Brize Norton at just after 1am, and a video shared on social media showed the emotional homecoming as Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugged and kissed her young daughter and Mr Ashoori’s family sobbed.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe left Iran with the British–Iranian businessman, who was detained in the country in August 2017 and was also released, on Wednesday after the UK agreed to settle a £400million debt to Tehran.

The mother-of-one has spent almost six years imprisoned in Iran.

The pair smiled and chatted as they walked from the aircraft into a reception building at the airport.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was wearing a navy dress and coat, with a bright yellow shawl and matching handbag, waved to the cameras, while Mr Ashoori, who was carrying a magazine, gave a salute and a peace sign.

Mr Ashoori appeared to be taking photos with the pilots in the cockpit on the plane, as they waited to disembark.

He could be seen posing with two men through the windows of the cockpit.

An emotional video was shared live on Instagram by Mr Ashoori’s daughter Elika as the pair disembarked the plane.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s seven-year-old daughter Gabriella was heard asking “is that mummy?” and again shouted “mummy” as her mother walked down the plane’s stairs.

Mr Ratcliffe shook Mr Ashoori’s hand, as Gabriella appeared to run towards her mother, who was out of shot. She then carried the little girl in her arms as they were surrounded by other family members.

Mr Ashoori was then reunited with his family, who were in tears as they embraced. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe then appeared in the video and hugged and kissed her daughter, and asked her “do I smell nice?” before holding her hands.

She also hugged members of the Ashoori family.

Sharing photographs from the flight on Twitter, Stephanie Al-Qaq, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign Office, said there was “relief and joy” as the British-Iranians and officials left Tehran.

While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was also seen in Ms Ashoori’s video waiting for the pair’s arrival, said: “People are in very, very good spirits.”

Speaking at Brize Norton after the arrival, she said: “I think it’s been a really difficult 48 hours, the expectation that they would be released, but we weren’t sure right until the last moment.

“It’s been very emotional, but also a really happy moment for the families, and I’m pleased to say that both Nazanin and Anoosheh are in good spirits and they’re safe and well back here in Britain.”

Asked whether Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori thanked her following their return, Ms Truss said: “Well, I thank them and I thank the families for how stoical they’ve been during this really, really difficult period.

“And we talked about the process that we’ve been through, the difficult last part of making sure that they were able to leave Iran but it’s so fantastic to welcome them back safe and well here in Britain.”

A third British detainee, Morad Tahbaz, has been released from prison on furlough but remains in Iran.

In a tweet, Ms Truss said she was pleased he had been released but his continued detainment was “far from sufficient”.

She added: “We will continue to work intensively to secure his departure from Iran.”

The release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori follows months of intensive diplomatic negotiations between London and Tehran, including the eventual payment of an outstanding £400 million debt owed by Britain to the regime.

Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella outside his North London home, ahead of his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s return

/ PA

Earlier, her husband Richard Ratcliffe said he was “deeply grateful” for her release and that he and Gabriella were “looking forward to a new life”.

Although he admitted the family can’t “get back the time they’ve lost”, he insisted they will try to “live in the future” when she returns home.

He added: “The first thing she wanted was for me to make her a cup of tea, so we will do that.”

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq said in a tweet, as she shared a photo: “It’s been 6 long years – and I can’t believe I can FINALLY share this photo. Nazanin is now in the air flying away from 6 years of hell in Iran. My heart goes out to Gabriella and Richard, as her long journey back home to them gets closer by the minute. “

She gave an update on Wednesday afternoon saying Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s flight out of Tehran had touched down in Muscat, Oman, where Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe boarded a flight back to the UK.

The MP shared another image of the mother-of-one on the flight back to the UK: “Nazanin’s plane took off from Oman just over half an hour ago and she’s due to arrive in the UK this evening. Here she is on the plane – the final step in what has been a six year long ordeal. “

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment and the detention of other British nationals in the country has been linked to a £393.8 million debt that Britain owed Iran for 1,500 Chieftain tanks and armoured vehicles which was cancelled by Britain in 1979.

After her arrest she was told she would only only be released when the debt was paid.

Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Ge

The Foreign Office confirmed the debt will now be settled but the full terms will not be made public. The debt will be repaid in a way that complies with sanctions on Iran and will be paid in humanitarian goods rather than in cash.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who holds duel British-Iranian citizenship, was arrested in 2016 on trumped up charges of plotting against the regime.

She served five years in an Iranian prison and has spent the past year on parole at her parents’ home in Tehran in fear she could be sent back to jail at any time.

On Tuesday, she was handed back her British passport and was reportedly told a flight would be “arranged for her” on Wednesday so she could rejoin her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella, seven, in Hampstead.

Ms Truss said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori’s release was down to “years of hard work and dedication” by diplomats and “intensive efforts over the past six months”.

“I made resolving the continued detention of British nationals and the IMS debt payment my top priorities when I entered office in September 2021,” she said.

“Last October and November, I dispatched a team of Foreign Office negotiators to Tehran to secure the release of the detainees.

“Last December, I met Omani Foreign Minister Badr to secure Oman’s diplomatic assistance. We are grateful to our friends in Oman for their support in securing the return of our nationals.

“The IMS debt has been settled in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and all legal obligations.”

Tom Tugendhat, Tory chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Standard: “This is the most fantastic news. The liberation of a mother held so brutally for so long would be a fantastic moment.”

Earlier on Wednesday, during a visit to Abu Dhabi, Boris Johnson said negotiations over the charity workers release were “going right up to the wire”.

“It is true and it has been for a long time that we’re negotiating for the release of our dual nationals in Tehran, the Prime Minister said.

“There are some very sad cases, including Nazanin.”

Ms Truss told Parliament the “agonies” endured by British dual nationals in Iran “must never happen again”.

She detailed the “intense” talks to resolve the situation, with a final round of negotiations in Muscat in February resulting in the agreement.

Ms Truss said the UK will “continue to push with partners” to secure Morad Tahbaz’s permanent release home, noting it is “long overdue”.

She added in the Commons: “We will continue to support other British nationals in Iran who have asked for our help.

“We will work closely with our international partners to urge Iran to end its practice of unfair detention. It remains, and always has been, within Iran’s gift to release any British national who has been unfairly detained.

“The agonies endured by Nazanin, Anoosheh, Morad and their families must never happen again.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “an incredible moment” for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family after an “unimaginable ordeal”.

He added that there would be questions to be answered about “what happened along the way”, but at present his thoughts were with the family.

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