Boris Johnson in Iran to press for release of British aid worker

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson during a meeting in Tehran on Dec 9, 2017.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson during a meeting in Tehran on Dec 9, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

TEHERAN • Britain's Foreign Minister Boris Johnson visited Iran yesterday to press for the release of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe amid accusations at home that one of his gaffes has seriously harmed her case.

Mr Johnson held talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif which also touched on a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Teheran 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 (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal) is very valuable to the UK and emphasised his country's commitment to its full implementation," it added.

Mr Johnson is due to meet President Hassan Rouhani today.

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."

The Foreign Office would not confirm the names or number of other people being held in Iran.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an aid worker, was arrested at Teheran airport on April 3 last year, after visiting relatives with her daughter.

The 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, the authorities filed additional charges of "spreading propaganda" against her, and will present her in court again today.

Her case has become highly politicised, especially after a "slip of the tongue" by Mr 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.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe, who had lobbied to join Mr Johnson on the visit, has raised concerns about his wife's mental health, citing the mounting toll of her prolonged incarceration in Teheran's notorious Evin prison.

Mr Johnson is on a three-day trip to the region, stopping in Oman last Friday and moving on to the United Arab Emirates today.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline 'Boris Johnson in Iran to press for release of British aid worker'. Print Edition | Subscribe