Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, has ended his two-day visit to Iran without any announcement on the release of the British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but has agreed with President Rouhani that Britain and Iran wanted to make progress “on the removal of all obstacles in the Anglo-Iranian relationship”.
The brief statement came after Johnson met Rouhani for an hour to discuss regional and bilateral issues including US and UK banking restrictions and UK concerns “about the consular cases of dual nationals”.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a 38-year-old Iranian-British dual national who has been jailed in Iran since April 2016. She has been accused of attempting to orchestrate a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic. She and her three-year-old daughter, Gabriella, were about to return to the UK from Iran after a family visit when she was arrested. Since then, she has spent most of her time in Evin prison in Tehran, separated from her daughter.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for BBC Media Action between February 2009 and October 2010 before moving to Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, as a project manager. Her family has always said that she was in Iran on holiday.
The Foreign Office spokesman said both men “spoke forthrightly about the obstacles in the relationship and agreed on the need to make progress in all areas”.
“It has been a worthwhile visit and we leave with a sense that both sides want to keep up the momentum to resolve the difficult issues in the bilateral relationship and preserve the nuclear deal,” he added.
During his visit, Johnson met most of the senior figures in Iranian politics, including the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, as well as Dr Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Association.
Iranian news media accounts of the meetings did not focus on the Zagahari-Ratcliffe issue, but instead on what the UK could do to ease British banking restrictions that are holding back Iranian-UK trade in the wake of the lifting of sanctions made possible by the Iranian nuclear deal in 2015.
The nuclear deal is under threat in America, but the UK, in common with other EU countries, has been a staunch defender of the deal, insisting Iran is in compliance with its terms.
Zaghhari-Ratcliffe has been in jail for nearly two years charged with with seeking to undermine the Iranian state, and it is possible she is due to appear in court again on Sunday on fresh charges that could extend her sentence by as much as 10 years.
There had been some suggestion that the Iranians might postpone the hearing that had by chance coincided with the foreign secretary’s visit.
Tehran does not recognise Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s dual UK-Iranian nationality, and refuses her access to representatives of the British authorities.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, expressed concern at the prospect of his wife going to court again. He told the Press Association: “I am obviously watching closely with hope, fingers crossed.”
Ratcliffe said he hoped the foreign secretary’s visit would do some good. “Hopefully, he will be persuasive and charming, and build a good relationship. It is definitely good that he is there, but let’s wait and see what happens,” he said.