BORIS JOHN­SON TO VISIT IRAN IN BID TO SE­CURE RE­LEASE OF BRI­TISH MOTHER

Western Mail - - FRONT PAGE - An­drew Wood­cock news­desk@waleson­line.co.uk

FOR­EIGN Sec­re­tary Boris John­son is to visit Iran this week­end to try to se­cure the re­lease of jailed Bri­tish mother Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe.

Mr John­son’s trip to Tehran is only the third by a UK For­eign Sec­re­tary since 2003 and comes at a time of ten­sion in the Mid­dle East over Don­ald Trump’s an­nounce­ment that he is recog­nis­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael.

In wide-rang­ing talks with Ira­nian for­eign min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif, Mr John­son will seek to shore up bi­lat­eral re­la­tions and urge Tehran to stick by the terms of its 2015 nu­clear deal.

Mrs Zaghari-Rat­cliffe, whose sis­ter-in-law, Re­becca Jones, is a GP liv­ing in Cardiff, is serv­ing a five-year sen­tence over al­le­ga­tions, which she de­nies, of plot­ting to over­throw the Tehran gov­ern­ment, hav­ing been ar­rested in 2016 dur­ing a hol­i­day visit to show her baby daugh­ter, Gabriella, to her par­ents.

Re­ports sug­gest she could ap­pear in court again on Sun­day, fol­low­ing threats to in­crease her sen­tence by five years fol­low­ing Mr John­son’s gaffe of telling a parliamentary com­mit­tee that she had been in Iran to train jour­nal­ists. He later ac­knowl­edged this was not the case.

It is un­der­stood that Nazanin’s hus­band, Richard, will not ac­com­pany Mr John­son af­ter re­ceiv­ing ad­vice that it may not help his chances of see­ing his wife in prison. Tehran does not recog­nise Mrs Zaghari-Rat­cliffe’s dual UK-Ira­nian na­tion­al­ity, and re­fuses ac­cess to her for rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Bri­tish author­i­ties, mak­ing a prison visit for the For­eign Sec­re­tary un­likely dur­ing the trip.

Hers is one of a small num­ber of cases of dual na­tion­als whose re­lease Bri­tain is seek­ing on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds on which Mr John­son will push for progress.

The For­eign Of­fice has de­clined to name the other in­di­vid­u­als in­volved – or even iden­tify the num­ber in jail – af­ter their fam­i­lies asked for their cases to be kept out of the pub­lic eye.

Re­la­tions with Iran have been strained in re­cent years, de­spite the re-open­ing of the UK em­bassy in Tehran in 2015, but Lon­don has de­tected signs of greater open­ness to di­a­logue in re­cent months.

Diplo­mats are hope­ful that Mr John­son’s visit will help es­tab­lish a “load-bear­ing” relationship, al­low­ing them to work with one an­other on is­sues of con­cern.

It is thought that Iran ap­pre­ci­ated the UK’s firm re­sponse to Mr Trump’s de­ci­sion last month not to re­cer­tify the 2015 deal un­der which sanc­tions were lifted in re­turn for an end to its mil­i­tary nu­clear pro­gramme. Mr John­son trav­elled to Washington to urge Congress not to tear up the deal, and made clear that Bri­tain re­mains con­vinced it is es­sen­tial.

De­spite dis­gruntle­ment in Tehran at the lim­ited scale of trade and bank­ing ac­cess opened up by the deal, Mr John­son will seek to per­suade Mr Zarif that it has been good for Iran’s econ­omy, as well as for re­gional sta­bil­ity.

He will re­as­sure him of the con­tin­ued sup­port of the UK, along­side other Euro­pean spon­sors, for the deal and press him to en­sure con­tin­ued co-op­er­a­tion with in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tion teams from the IAEA.

In stark con­trast to Mr Trump, the UK be­lieves Iran’s com­pli­ance with its side of the deal has been largely good.

He is ex­pected to raise con­cerns over al­le­ga­tions – de­nied by Tehran – that Iran has sup­plied mis­siles to Houthi rebels in Ye­men, one of which is be­lieved to have been used in the re­cent at­tack on an in­ter­na­tional air­port in Saudi cap­i­tal Riyadh.

And he is certain to hear com­plaints about the dif­fi­cul­ties Ira­nian author­i­ties and banks have had in ac­cess­ing the bank­ing net­work in the UK, where many in­sti­tu­tions with close links to the US are wary of tak­ing on business which may lay them open to charges of breach­ing Amer­i­can sanc­tions.

Fam­ily handout pic­ture

> Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe with her hus­band Richard Rat­cliffe and their daugh­ter Gabriella be­fore her im­pris­on­ment

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