UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton’s release
TEHRAN – Britain’s foreign minister visited Iran on Saturday to press for the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe amid accusations at home that one of his gaffes has seriously harmed her case.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson held talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif which also touched on a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers whose future has been thrown into doubt by US President Donald Trump.
“The two sides discussed various matters including economic, banking and trade relations,” the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The UK foreign secretary said the JCPOA (nuclear deal) is very valuable to the UK and emphasised his country’s commitment to its full implementation,” it added. Johnson, who is due to meet President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday, did not speak to reporters.
He released a statement prior to his arrival, saying: “I will stress my grave concerns about our dual national consular cases and press for their release where there are humanitarian grounds to do so.”
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian citizen, was arrested at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016, after visiting relatives with her young daughter.
Iranian authorities accused her of links to mass protests in 2009, which she denies, and sentenced her to five years in jail for sedition. They do not recognise dual nationality.
Last month, they filed additional charges of “spreading propaganda” and will present her in court again on Sunday.
Her case has become highly politicised, especially after a “slip of the tongue” by Johnson last month when he stated that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Iran, which has been used by the Iranian authorities to help justify the new charges.
Husband Richard Ratcliffe, who had lobbied to join Johnson on the visit, has raised concerns about his wife’s mental health, citing the mounting toll of her prolonged incarceration in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. The BBC urged Johnson to raise their complaints about “harassment and prosecution” of their Persian-language staff living abroad.
“While he is in Iran, we urge Boris Johnson to raise the case of BBC Persian staff, who have had a criminal investigation launched against them simply because they work for the BBC,” the broadcaster said on Twitter.
BBC Persian staff have had their Iranian bank accounts frozen, and complain of threatening phone calls and interrogations of family members in Iran.
Johnson is on a three-day trip to the region, stopping in Oman on Friday and moving on to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.
It is the first visit of a foreign secretary to Iran since 2015 when the nuclear deal was signed. It unfolds amid mass protests across the Muslim world over Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
“While our relationship with Iran has improved significantly since 2011, it is not straightforward and on many issues we will not agree,” Johnson said ahead of the trip.
Britain severed diplomatic relations in 2011 after protesters stormed its embassy in Tehran in response to sanctions over the nuclear dispute.
The embassy was reopened in 2015 and full relations restored last year.