Good people can disagree, as Barack Obama always pointed out. That crossed my mind when I heard Jeremy Hunt, in his capacity as former Foreign Secretary, demand that Britain pay Â£ 400million to the Iranian regime – money that Tehran says it owes the UK after an incomplete defense order 1970s – to secure the freedom of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It was a decent argument put forward with compassion. But from my point of view it is also wrong.
What does a human life cost? As Mr. Hunt said, you put yourself in the shoes of Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s seven-year-old daughter Gabriella. After seeing her mother in an Iranian prison only every four weeks in her early childhood, she now had to watch her father starve to death from despair. Are you just handing over the money?
But this is not just about human suffering versus dirty gain. Money means power. We must weigh the Ratcliffe family’s fears against the moral danger of giving in to blackmail, as well as the regional instability, terrorism, murder and misery that the Tehran regime could unleash with an additional Â£ 400 million in the bank.
Compassionate as it may be, the position of those who want us to pay the money rests on the blind elevation of the rule of law above everything else. In the 1970s, when the Shah, a British ally, was in charge, London accepted an order from Tehran to provide 1,500 Chieftain tanks and 250 support vehicles. Deliveries were in progress when the brutal theocratic regime took power in 1979. Whitehall ruled that it could neither hand over the rest of the military equipment with a clear conscience nor return the money to Iran’s new rulers, the ayatollahs.
Now that an innocent Brit languishes in a Tehran prison, Hunt and his allies are trying to reverse this ethical position in the name of the rule of law. “Unfortunately, finding the loan shark unsavory doesn’t get you off the hook,” he said. But that analogy doesn’t work. Instead, think of the delinquent son of a long-dead neighbor to whom you were indebted. He confiscated your daughter in order to raise the money to kill your friends and relatives. Tell me what you do
The effects of Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran are often overlooked. Between 2018 and 2020, the country’s official gross reserves plummeted from $ 122.5 billion to $ 4 billion. But even while the Iranian civilian population plunged into poverty, the rulers continued to use their existing money to fund military interference and espionage abroad. Today Iran-backed militias from Baghdad to Yemen are wreaking havoc. As we speak, Israeli jets are being forced to destroy Iranian targets in Syria. If it were up to those who want to pay Iran’s ransom, it would be British pounds going up in smoke. Not to mention the money that would be pumped into the goals of killing Westerners around the world – and obtaining a nuclear weapon. And that’s a precedent that could be set if Britain gives in to blackmail: As Kipling put it, once you’ve paid him the Danish money, you never get rid of the Danes.
Everyone agrees: Ms. Zaghari-Radcliffe must be released. But it cannot be on Iran’s terms – and certainly not at the expense of Tehran’s plans to threaten the world.
Jake Wallis Simons is Associate Editor of the Jewish Chronicle