Efforts to free Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe will be 'long-haul'

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Pa­trick Win­tour Diplo­matic ed­i­tor

Bri­tain’s for­mer am­bas­sador to Tehran has warned against ex­pect­ing a break­through in the the fight to re­lease Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe when Boris John­son vis­its Iran later this year, say­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions will in­volve “a long haul”.

Sir Richard Dal­ton also poured cold wa­ter on the idea of giv­ing Zaghari-Rat­cliffe the sta­tus of diplo­matic pro­tec­tion, an idea pro­posed by her fam­ily and sup­port­ers as way of plac­ing greater pres­sure on the Tehran regime.

The for­eign sec­re­tary is due to dis­cuss the idea of diplo­matic pro­tec­tion with Zaghari-Rat­cliffe’s Bri­tish hus­band, Richard, at a meet­ing on Wed­nes­day. It will be the first time John­son has met him since Zaghari-Rat­cliffe was ar­rested dur­ing a visit to Iran in April 2016 and ac­cused of es­pi­onage, a charge she de­nies.

John­son’s per­sonal po­lit­i­cal ca­reer is now wrapped up in the re­lease of the UK-Ira­nian dual na­tional af­ter he in­cor­rectly said she may have been in Iran train­ing jour­nal­ists. Her fam­ily in­sist she was on hol­i­day.

John­son has since re­tracted the state­ment in par­lia­ment, and af­ter some de­lay apol­o­gised for the mis­take on Mon­day.

De­tained for 18 months, Zaghar­iRat­cliffe had al­ready been sen­tenced to five years and was fac­ing fur­ther po­ten­tial charges be­fore John­son’s er­ror placed her in greater jeop­ardy.

Richard Zaghari-Rat­cliffe has of­fered to ac­com­pany John­son to Tehran in an at­tempt to see his wife in jail, and plead for her re­lease.

Writ­ing in the Guardian the for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary Sir Mal­colm Rifkind said that if John­son re­turned empty-handed from Tehran, UK-Ira­nian eco­nomic re­la­tions would be dam­aged.

But Dal­ton, who was the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Iran from 2003 to 2006, has urged the po­lit­i­cal classes to dial down the rhetoric over the po­ten­tial for her re­lease, say­ing the best hope lay in se­cret diplo­macy.

Speak­ing on BBC Ra­dio 4 on Tues­day, Dal­ton said: “I think this is go­ing to be a long haul and I think it is time to let the gov­ern­ment get on with it.

“The less de­bate about po­lit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions in the UK from now on the bet­ter. I don’t think there should be ex­ces­sively high ex­pec­ta­tions. The fact that there are sev­eral cases that Mr John­son, quite rightly, has to han­dle means that we should not ex­pect too much from an early visit.”

The Ira­ni­ans are al­ready dis­count­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween Zaghari-Rat­cliffe and John­son’s visit by say­ing it has been long planned and there are a lot of other is­sues to dis­cuss.

Dal­ton said it was the task of the For­eign Of­fice to come up with pro­pos­als be­fore the visit, but added: “It is not clear just what Mr John­son could bring to Iran that can help per­suade them that it is in Iran’s in­ter­ests to re­lease her.”

He said Iran’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary courts be­lieved they had a proper case, but it was pos­si­ble for early re­leases to be granted if it was deemed to be in the higher in­ter­est of the Ira­nian state.

Dal­ton also poured cold wa­ter on the idea of diplo­matic pro­tec­tion,

say­ing the pro­posal is “ex­tremely vague”.

“I do not see its rel­e­vance in this case; we claim that as a Bri­tish cit­i­zen, as well as an Ira­nian cit­i­zen, con­sular pro­tec­tion should ap­ply,” he said. “The Ira­ni­ans how­ever have a set­tled view that sec­ond na­tion­al­ity is ir­rel­e­vant when it comes to ex­trac­tion.”

Carla Ferts­man, di­rec­tor of the hu­man rights group Re­dress, in­sisted diplo­matic pro­tec­tion would be an ef­fec­tive means of el­e­vat­ing the sta­tus of Zaghari-Rat­cliffe’s case.

Iran would like to see the UK take steps to ease bank­ing re­stric­tions so it is eas­ier for for­eign com­pa­nies to op­er­ate in Iran with­out fear of fines be­ing im­posed by the US. The EU and US sanc­tions regimes against Iran are dif­fer­ent.

There has, how­ever, been a 60% rise in EU-Ira­nian trade since the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Iran’s nu­clear deal – of­fi­cially known as the JCPOA – in Jan­uary 2016.

John­son is also likely to be pressed in ad­vance of the visit on whether the UK agrees with the French pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, who has said the Ira­nian de­vel­op­ment of its bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gramme, cur­rently out­side the JCPOA, could be sub­ject to sep­a­rate sanc­tions on Tehran. Iran has strongly ob­jected to Macron’s re­marks.

Macron is due to visit Tehran this year af­ter John­son’s visit, as is his for­eign min­is­ter, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe had al­ready been sen­tenced to five years and was fac­ing fur­ther po­ten­tial charges be­fore Boris John­son’s er­ror placed her in greater jeop­ardy. Pho­to­graph: Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe/PA

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