UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson held “frank” talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday about “a number of consular cases involving dual nationals,” a statement from the British Foreign Office said.
The most high-profile of those cases is that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government — a charge she denies. She has been in custody since April 2016.
Johnson did not speak to journalists following the talks with Zarif. But the Foreign Office said the talks had been “constructive,” despite differences between the two countries.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported that Johnson had called for increasing bilateral cooperation and stressed Britain’s support for Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Ahead of the visit, Johnson said in statement he planned to press for the release of dual nationals “where there are humanitarian grounds to do so.”
He has also vowed to leave “no stone unturned” in Britain’s efforts to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Last month, however, the diplomat was accused of making her situation worse after a gaffe in which he incorrectly told parliament the charity worker was training journalists in Iran at the time of her arrest. Critics say the blunder has been used by the Iranian authorities to justify new charges. Johnson has since apologized for any distress his comments may have caused.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband says she will face trial over “spreading propaganda” on Sunday — new charges that carry the possibility of an additional 16 years in jail.
Johnson, who is on a three-nation Gulf tour, also met Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani. He is due to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday before ending his trip in the United Arab Emirates.
Besides the fate of jailed dual nationals, the visit is also expected to focus on the landmark 2015 nuclear deal to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment program and the conflict in Yemen.
Johnson’s visit is only the third by a British Foreign Minister over the past 14 years and relations between the two countries remain strained. Britain severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2011 after protesters stormed the UK embassy in Tehran in response to sanctions over its nuclear activities. The embassy was reopened in 2015 and full relations restored last year.
“While our relationship with Iran has improved significantly since 2011, it is not straightforward and on many issues we will not agree,” Johnson said in a statement.
“But I am clear that dialogue is the key to managing our differences and, where possible, making progress on issues that really matter, even under difficult conditions.”
nm/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)