UK foreign minister arrives in Iran to lobby for jailed aid worker

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 09, 2017 4:49 AM

DUBAI (Reuters) - British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson arrived on Saturday in Iran, where he is expected to lobby his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif for the release of jailed Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The visit is only the third by a British foreign minister to Iran in the last 14 years, and takes place against a complex backdrop of historical, regional and bilateral tensions.

Johnson will also meet President Hassan Rouhani, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and other officials, the state news agency IRNA said on Saturday in its report on the visit.

Johnson and Iranian officials will discuss bilateral relations, including banking and economic ties, as well as regional issues and international developments, IRNA added.

Johnson has vowed to leave "no stone unturned" in Britain's efforts to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, who was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She denies the charges.

"The Foreign Secretary will urge the Iranians to release dual nationals where there are humanitarian grounds to do so," a foreign office spokesman said earlier.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not the only dual national being held in Iran, but has become the most high-profile case. Johnson said on Nov. 1 that she had been teaching people journalism before her arrest in April 2016, in remarks critics said could have prompted Iran to extend her sentence.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News, said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been on holiday and had not been teaching journalism in Iran.

Johnson has since apologized for any distress his comments may have caused and said that she was in Iran on holiday.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been told she will appear in court on Dec. 10, her husband Richard has said.

The visit will test Johnson's ability to navigate a political landscape littered with potential pitfalls. Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution turned it into a pariah state for most of the West and many Middle Eastern neighbors.

International sanctions have only recently been lifted as part of a multilateral nuclear deal to curb Iran's disputed uranium enrichment program. That deal is under threat after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to decertify Iran's compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Britain has voiced its continued support for the nuclear deal but is one of a number of Western powers voicing concerns about Tehran's "destabilizing" influence in the region.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones)