LONDON, United Kingdom — British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt accused Iran on Thursday of detaining innocent people as “an instrument of diplomatic leverage,” after pressing the case of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran.
He was speaking after a “very, very frank discussion” with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
In an interview with Sky News television, Hunt raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year jail sentence for alleged sedition.
“It’s not just Nazanin,” he said, adding that the Iranian government was “detaining innocent people as an instrument of diplomatic leverage.”
“We can’t do that, and we can’t accept it. We’ve just been talking about Russia — even Russia doesn’t do this.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was given three days’ temporary release from jail in August.
Hunt refused to comment on speculation that the decision not to extend her furlough was linked to a British Airways decision the same week to halt flights to Tehran.
But he said: “It is unacceptable for the Iranian regime to punish innocent people because of commercial decisions, trade decisions, diplomatic decisions that they don’t like.”
He said the Iranian foreign affairs ministry “are the people who most want to solve this issue” but said the regime was “complicated.”
“I made it very clear that our policy to Iran is not settled and there will be consequences if they continue to think that this is a tool of diplomacy,” he said.
He added: “Iran needs to understand that we will not let it rest.”