Jeremy Hunt, who was foreign secretary between July 2018 and July 2019, has jumped to the defence of British-Iranian Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was returned to the UK last week after six years in detention in Iran.
At a press conference on Monday, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said it had taken too long for the Government to pay a £400 million debt to Iran, which helped secure her release.
She said although she could not be happier to be home, “this should have happened six years ago”.
But she has faced a backlash online, with commentators suggesting she should instead be grateful or that she was somehow at fault.
Mr Hunt said on Twitter: “Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation.
“She’s absolutely right that it took too long to bring her home. I tried my best – as did other foreign secretaries – but if trying our best took six years, then we must be honest and say the problem should have been solved earlier.”
Mr Hunt said the turnover of ministers in the role and a reluctance to pay the debt, which dated back to the 1970s, may have been a factor. He said the Government did not want to appear to be paying ransom money.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “I think there was a lot of reluctance when I arrived as foreign secretary because of a sense that it might be seen as a ransom. We don’t pay ransoms because it encourages more hostage-taking. But this is not a ransom, it is a debt.”
Mr Hunt said: “That decision that we should pay it in principle was taken when I was foreign secretary. But then the practicalities of paying it when Iran is a sanctioned regime meant that it still took a long time to sort out.”
The MP said he did everything he could while he was foreign secretary, but added: “It took too long. That is the honest truth.”
Mr Hunt said: “Whilst it was an extraordinary achievement by Liz Truss and the Foreign Office to negotiate Nazanin and Anoosheh Ashoori’s release – and indeed Boris Johnson deserves some credit for the fact that he authorised the payment of the debt, which hadn’t happened previously and that kind of decision has to come right from the top – but it took six years and that is too long. We have to ask ourselves whether we could have done it more quickly.”
Speaking on Monday, referencing her husband thanking the Government a few moments earlier, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “I do not really agree with him on that level.”
The 43-year-old said she had seen five foreign secretaries over the course of six years, adding: “That is unprecedented given the politics of the UK. I love you Richard, respect whatever you believe, but I was told many, many times that, ‘Oh we’re going to get you home.’
“That never happened.”