Boris Johnson ends Iran visit without agreement on jailed Briton
Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, has ended his two-day visit to Iran without any announcement on the release of the British dual national , but has agreed with President Rouhani that Britain and Iran wanted to make progress “on the removal of all obstacles in the Anglo-Iranian relationship”.
The brief statement came after Johnson met Rouhani for an hour to discuss regional and bilateral issues including US and UK banking restrictions and UK concerns “about the consular cases of dual nationals”.
The Foreign Office spokesman said both men “spoke forthrightly about the obstacles in the relationship and agreed on the need to make progress in all areas”.
“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,” he added.
During his visit, Johnson met most of the senior figures in Iranian politics, including the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, as well as Dr Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Association.
Iranian news media accounts of the meetings did not focus on the Zagahari-Ratcliffe issue, but instead on what the UK could do to ease British banking restrictions that are holding back Iranian-UK trade in the wake of the lifting of sanctions made possible by the Iranian nuclear deal in 2015.
The nuclear deal is under threat in America, but the UK, in common with other EU countries, has been a staunch defender of the deal, insisting Iran is in compliance with its terms.
Zaghhari-Ratcliffe has been in jail for nearly two years charged with seeking to undermine the Iranian state, and she could appear in court again on Sunday on fresh charges that could extend her sentence by as much as 10 years.
There had been some suggestion that the Iranians might postpone the hearing that had by chance coincided with the foreign secretary’s visit.
Tehran does not recognise Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s dual UK-Iranian nationality, and refuses her access to representatives of the British authorities.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, expressed concern at the prospect of his wife going to court again. He told the Press Association: “I am obviously watching closely with hope, fingers crossed.”
Ratcliffe said he hoped the foreign secretary’s visit would do some good. “Hopefully, he will be persuasive and charming, and build a good relationship. It is definitely good that he is there, but let’s wait and see what happens,” he said.
Although the meeting with Rouhani was regarded as a significant sign of Iranian willingness to engage with the UK, Iranian media accounts highlighted the problems standing in a way of improved relations, especially the belief that the UK could do more both to rein in US-led banking sanctions, and President Donald Trump’s criticisms of the nuclear deal.
The Mehr news agency reported Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, telling Johnson that US and UK military campaigns since 2000 had plunged the world into chaos, and were the major reason for the spread of terrorism. Larijani said: ”Instead of voicing anti-Iran sentiments, it would be more rewarding to pay attention to the reality of what is going on in regional countries.”
He also questioned British support for Bahrain’s monarchy, saying: “All Bahraini people want is democracy. They want equal voting rights. Why do you aid their oppression? You claim to be the upholders of human rights, yet you support those who violate Bahraini people’s rights.”
Larijani also suggested that the all aspects of the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, had not been fully implemented by the UK.
He was quoted as saying: “After JCPOA agreement was reached, unlike certain other European countries that did their best to engage in economic cooperation with Iran, the UK did not take appropriate measures to promote economic cooperation with Iran. You did not even solve the banking obstacles of Iranian embassy in London.”
Johnson was reported as saying the UK would welcome more Iranian tourists to London, and acknowledged that some UK interventions had failed, a theme he set out as length in a speech on fighting terrorism in a speech in London last week.
Mehr reported him as saying certain inappropriate measures adopted by the UK had resulted in the dissolution of regional regimes. Iranian news sites also claimed Johnson had bene relatively even-handed in discussing the disputes between Saudi and Iran that have spread across the Middle East.
“Iran, Saudi tensions are not beneficial to any countries and will only result in unstable conditions. The problems between the two countries need to be solved and we intend to help Iran’s attempts to establish stability in the region”.
Johnson also met similar critcisms from Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s supreme national security council.
Shamkhani was reported as saying since the JCPOA went into effect, economic relations between the UK and Iran have not developed sufficiently, emphasising that developing banking relations could be a first step for expansion of cooperation in other fields. He claimed the US attitude to the nuclear deal has been “a full-scale catastrophe”, adding that such misconduct would cast doubt on all international agreements.
The official said the other parties to the JCPOA were only passive observers of Washington’s inappropriate behaviour, adding that Iran would take necessary measures based on its national interests.
The foreign secretary has travelled to the United Arab Emirates for further talks that are likely to focus on the crisis in Yemen.
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