The UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, ended a trip to Iran on Sunday with no announcement on the fate of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British woman who has been in a Tehran jail since April 2016 on spying charges.
There had been hopes that Johnson would be able to negotiate a release for the mother-of-one from London during the two-day diplomatic mission that ended with a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
A statement from the British Foreign Office said the two sides had discussed “concerns about the consular cases of dual nationals.”
A month ago Johnson caused a furore in the UK after he told a parliamentary committee that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran to teach journalism.
“When you look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it,” Johnson told the committee, adding that he found the situation “deeply depressing.”
Both Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her employer have always maintained she was simply visiting family while on vacation.
The seriousness of Johnson’s error became apparent days later when Zaghari-Ratcliffe was summoned to an unscheduled court hearing at which the foreign secretary’s remarks were cited as proof she had engaged in “propaganda against the regime.”
Her family fears the five-year sentence she was given on espionage charges could be lengthened.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained at the airport in Tehran in April 2016 on her way back to the UK from visiting family with her daughter Gabriella, then 22 months old. The child has since been looked after by her maternal grandparents.
Last September, in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Rouhani said he had his own “sensitivities” regarding the case, but underlined the separation of the judiciary and executive in the Iranian constitution.
During his visit to Iran, which had been scheduled for more than a year, Johnson also met with the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
It was the first visit by a UK foreign secretary to Iran since 2015.
“During nearly an hour of talks with President Rouhani, both spoke forthrightly about the obstacles in the relationship and agreed on the need to make progress in all areas,” the Foreign Office statement said.
“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,” the Foreign Office said.
The UK stands with the rest of the European Union in wanting to preserve a 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that US President Donald Trump has walked away from.
‘We are committed to our deals, we are Muslim, we are Iranians, we have a great culture,’ President Rouhani told the Iranian Parliament on Sunday, according to the state news agency IRNA.
‘However, if they want to violate it, Iran will not be worried, as it has envisaged other plans,’ Rouhani was reported as saying.
Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for economic sanctions relief.
UK stance on nuclear deal criticized
However, according to IRNA, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, who also met with Johnson, criticized the UK’s adherence to the agreement.
“The post-JCPOA economic cooperation between Iran and the UK is not satisfactory at the moment,’ IRNA reported Shamkhani as telling Johnson.
“Facilitating banking ties can be a prelude to developing cooperation,’ IRNA quoted Boris as saying.
In his meeting with Shamkhani on Saturday, Johnson reiterated the UK’s opposition to Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The UK has made no choice to relocate its embassy to al-Quds,” IRNA reported Johnson as saying. Al Quds is the Arabic word for Jerusalem.