British foreign minister to visit Iran, lobby for jailed aid worker

Stanley Johnson

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been told she will appear in court on December 10, her husband Richard has said.

The mother-of-one has been held in Iran since April 2016 on charges of spying, which she denies.

Mr Johnson spent the weekend in Iran meeting the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and other officials, with whom he raised the case of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but no agreement for her release was reached. For now, he has played down any expectation of an immediate breakthrough in her case.

It had been thought she would appear in court on fresh charges, but her husband Richard Ratcliffe has confirmed that the case was not held. A day earlier, Johnson said he expected to have "frank" discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

He released a statement prior to his arrival, saying: "I will stress my grave concerns about our dual national consular cases and press for their release where there are humanitarian grounds to do so".

US President Donald Trump has made his opposition to the deal, struck in 2015, very clear and has threatened to scrap it.

Britain has voiced its continued support for the nuclear deal but is one of a number of Western powers voicing concerns about Tehran's "destabilizing" influence in the region.

Rouhani said that Iran and Saudi Arabia could have "good relations " if the Saudis end their "misguided friendship" with Israel and halt the "inhuman bombardment" of Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Iranian-allied rebels known as Houthis.

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The threats to increase her sentence by five years came following Mr Johnson's gaffe of telling a parliamentary committee she had been in Iran to train journalists.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been allowed to make phone calls from prison, was quoted by the British broadcaster Sky News as saying she "can see some light today".

"The UK Foreign Secretary said the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal) is very valuable to the UK and emphasised his country's commitment to its full implementation", it added.

"It has been a worthwhile visit and we leave with a sense that both sides want to keep up the momentum to resolve the hard issues in the bilateral relationship and preserve the nuclear deal", the foreign office spokesperson added.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on a visit to see her parents with her infant daughter Gabriella. "We're holding on to the good bits - it could go any which way".

The Foreign Office would not confirm the names or number of other people being held in Iran.

Relations with Iran have been strained in recent years, despite the reopening of the United Kingdom embassy in Tehran in 2015, but London has detected possible signs of greater openness to dialogue in recent months.

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