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British Foreign Secretary In Iran To Push For Briton's Release


British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) meets with Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is jailed in Iran, in London on November 15.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrived in Iran on December 9 to lobby for the release of an Iranian-British woman jailed in Tehran, holding talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif that Johnson's office called "frank."

Johnson and Zarif were expected to discuss the case of imprisoned British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as well as the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and leading world powers.

Johnson, who is set to meet Iranian President Hassan Rohani on December 10, did not speak with reporters in Tehran.

The British Foreign Office did not specifically mention Zaghari-Ratcliffe in a statement later on December 9 but said that Johnson raised the issue of dual citizens.

"They discussed the full range of bilateral issues and they both spoke frankly about the obstacles in the relationship, including the Foreign Secretary's concerns about the consular cases of British-Iranian dual nationals," it said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is already serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government while traveling there with her toddler daughter, faces fresh propaganda charges that could add 16 years to her prison term.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity that operates independently from the Reuters news agency. She denies the charges against her and insists she was in Iran on a personal visit. The Thomson Reuters Foundation has also said she was not on assignment while in Iran.

Johnson faced calls to resign last month after saying in Parliament that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been "training journalists" in Iran prior to her arrest last year, comments that critics said could lead to an extended prison sentence for her.

Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

He later apologized and said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was not in Iran in a professional capacity.

Iranian officials have cited Johnson's statement in their effort to bring new charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe. She is scheduled to appear before an Iranian court on December 10 to face charges of spreading antigovernment propaganda in Iran.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has said he believes his wife was about to be released before Johnson's statement.

The trip to Iran is Johnson's first and only the third by a British foreign secretary since 2003. The last such visit happened in 2015.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said Johnson and Zarif are expected to discuss "a wide range of issues from the bilateral relationship to regional security."

The visit comes as the United States has cast doubt on the future of the 2015 deal to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

Ali Shamkhani, the the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, also met with Johnson on December 9.

Shamkhani said after their talks that bilateral trade and economic cooperation has been "unsatisfactory" since the nuclear deal came into force.

"The facilitation of banking relations can be a start for expanding cooperation in other sectors," Shamkhani was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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