Britain's top diplomat raises detainee's case in Iran talks

AP News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2017 1:14 PM
Britain's top diplomat raises detainee's case in Iran talks

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson raised the case of a detained dual national on Sunday when he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a two-day trip to Tehran.

The British Foreign Office says Johnson raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly plotting against Iran's government, during a "worthwhile visit" to the country.

The Foreign Office said both Johnson and Rouhani "spoke forthrightly" during their nearly hour-long meeting and "agreed on the need to make progress in all areas," without elaborating.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband says she faces trial on new charges Sunday that carry the possibility of an additional 16-years imprisonment, but Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi said last month that her verdict has been finalized.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported Sunday that the head of Tehran's revolutionary court, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, denied on Sunday reports that there were any developments in Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case.

Ghazanfarabadi, according to the report, said that the case will be brought to court if a new crime is discovered, "because these people are very insolent."

Efforts to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker who has been held since April 2016, are believed to top Johnson's agenda. Johnson recently complicated those efforts by saying incorrectly that she was training journalists when arrested. He has since apologized.

London is considering repaying Tehran some 400 million pounds from a pre-1979 arms deal. Both sides say the money isn't related to Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Johnson met with Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family in Iran for about 45 minutes while on his trip, her husband Richard Ratcliffe said Sunday. Ratcliffe said a hearing in his wife's trial today was postponed because of Johnson's trip, a development he viewed with optimism.

"This weekend we had our first ripple of freedom, with the postponement of Nazanin's new court case," he said in a statement. "Of course who knows what lies ahead, the past 20 months have had plenty of false turns — but my hope is that the ripple in the days ahead might become a full change of tide."

It remains unclear when Zaghari-Ratcliffe's trial will resume.

Earlier Sunday, Johnson met with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear program.

Johnson arrived in Tehran on Saturday, leading a high-ranking delegation and meeting with Iranian officials. He met with with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif upon his arrival.

A smiling Zarif reminded a female member of Johnson's delegation, whose headscarf was unintentionally misplaced, to observe the country's Hijab dress code.

Johnson later traveled to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. There, he met Abu Dhabi's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan and discussed regional issues, though authorities there did not elaborate. 

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.