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Prisoner exchange hope fades for British-Iranian mum

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Family handout/PA)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Family handout/PA)

By Gavin Cordon

Iran has backed away from reports that jailed charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be released as part of a prisoner swap.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif had appeared to suggest the British-Iranian mother could be freed in exchange for an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition request.

However, in a subsequent interview, he told Reuters: "The offer that I made was people who have been in prison either in the United States or elsewhere in the world on American request. But the Iranian-British woman is a separate case."

Downing Street confirmed that the Government had not received any approach from Tehran about a possible prisoner exchange.

"The treatment of all British-Iranians detained in Iran, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (above), is a priority for the Government," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

"We remain concerned about all of our consular cases and raise them at every level and every opportunity."

Earlier, speaking to the Asia Society in New York on Wednesday, Mr Zarif appeared to link the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe -who is serving a five-year prison sentence for spying, a charge she vehemently denies - with that of the woman held in Australia.

"Now we hear about Nazanin Zaghari and her child, and I feel sorry for them and I have done my best to help, but nobody talks about this lady in Australia who gave birth to a child in prison, whose child is growing up outside prison with mother in prison," he said.

"So, what can I do as a foreign minister? And I put this offer on the table publicly now. Exchange them."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested with her infant daughter Gabriella on April 3, 2016, at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport as she prepared to board a plane back to the UK after visiting relatives.

The 40-year-old is serving her sentence in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.

The trial by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran was widely condemned as unfair.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt granted Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection last month.

But Tehran refuses to acknowledge her dual nationality and said the UK's actions were illegal.

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