The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has described a meeting with a Foreign Office minister as “depressing” after telling him he was coming away from it with “no hope”.
Richard Ratcliffe’s meeting with James Cleverly followed talks between UK Government officials and Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani.
The meetings on Thursday came as Mr Ratcliffe endured his 19th day on hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London.
Mr Ratcliffe began his demonstration last month after his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran, saying his family is “caught in a dispute between two states”.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Mr Cleverly, Mr Ratcliffe said: “If I’m honest, quite a depressing meeting.
“In terms of what we got told, well, not much.”
He said Mr Cleverly wanted to emphasise that the meeting with the Iranian delegation had been “cordial”.
Mr Ratcliffe added: “He’d raised Nazanin’s case, the case of the others (detainees). He said that was a good step. Couldn’t give a timeline on when things were going to move forwards.”
He told reporters he would continue his hunger strike outside the FCDO “this evening”, but said he was nearing the end of it “as a strategy”.
Asked if he was going to carry on, Mr Ratcliffe said: “For this evening, yes.
“I think there’s a basic medical limit on how long you do a hunger strike for.
“I made a promise to Nazanin, I made a promise to my family, mum in particular, and to the family doctors, that I won’t take it too far.
“But yeah, I don’t think we walk away head held high feeling like it’s all been sorted.”
Asked how he would break the news to his daughter, Gabriella, he said: “Well, she probably doesn’t think in terms of ministerial meetings, she’s just asked when mummy’s coming home.
“I’m a little bit more deflated today than I was this time yesterday.”
Mr Ratcliffe said his family is “stuck in the same status quo” after the meeting.
“If I’m honest, it felt like, you know, perfectly nice, sincere, caring, everyone in the room was caring.
“But you know we’re still stuck in the same status quo. We’re still stuck in the same problems that led us to end up on hunger strike.
“I don’t feel they’ve given a clear enough message to Iran that hostage-taking is wrong. I don’t think there are any consequences to Iran at present for its continuing taking hostages of British citizens and using them.
“There was acknowledgement that clearly Nazanin is being held as leverage. No readiness to change course,” he said.
Mr Ratcliffe said he was “pretty irritable” in the meeting.
“I said to him (Mr Cleverly) at the end, ‘I come away with no hope. I felt that in your strategy it’s all carrots to Iran. There’s no stick’.
“I can’t see what’s stopping them from continuing to play games with Nazanin.
“I think by being here, Nazanin is probably safe for a few weeks. But what’s to stop them threatening to put her in prison again?”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
She was taking the couple’s daughter, Gabriella, to see her family when she was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four years in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.
According to her family, she was told by Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.
Mr Ratcliffe said the Government “clammed up” and would not talk about the debt to Iran, adding: “We asked about the debt and they wouldn’t talk about it, I mean really clammed up.
“He (Mr Cleverly) said ‘our position is well known’, and we said ‘well, look, frankly it’s not well known, you haven’t told us. I don’t know if you’ve told anyone else but we’ve never heard it’.”
Mr Ratcliffe told reporters: “I had hoped there would have been some kind of a breakthrough and recognition in the meeting with Iran – maybe that will be happening away from us, but I don’t have any hopes.”
Asked how he would give the news to his wife, he said: “I will probably wait a few hours and calm down.
“I think probably my expectations were higher than hers.”
He added: “I think things either move forwards or they move backwards. I don’t feel they moved forwards today. It may be that there are parts of the conversation I am not privy to and there are parts the minister shares down the line.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said the Iranian deputy foreign minister met Mr Cleverly and senior government officials on Thursday, and Foreign Office representatives reiterated that Iran should take the opportunity to conclude the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) deal on the table.
They added: “The Iranian deputy foreign minister was also pressed on the need for Iran to urgently release all British nationals unfairly detained in Iran, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz.
“Minister Cleverly met Richard Ratcliffe again today to reaffirm our commitment to reuniting his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with her family in the UK.
“The Foreign Secretary, minister Cleverly and the FCDO continue to work hard to secure the release of all those British nationals unfairly detained in Iran.”