Boris Johnson, who was due to make his first visit to Tehran on Saturday for a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said before his trip that he hoped it would be “constructive” and that he was going to discuss a series of crucial issues, including the conflict in Yemen.
Johnson expressed “grave concerns” about the imprisonment of a number of British dual nationals currently behind bars in Iran, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held for nearly two years in Tehran’s Evin prison over allegations of spying.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s high-profile case has become inextricably intertwined with that of the foreign secretary’s political career since he made an erroneous statement last month, which appeared to complicate her legal battle. Johnson has since apologised for mistakenly saying that she was training journalists in Iran, while in fact she was on holiday.
Iranian hardliners, however, have ignored efforts by Johnson to rectify his comments, saying they were proof she acted illegally. Coinciding with Johnson’s visit, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was due to appear in court on Sunday to face additional charges based on claims of fresh evidence that appear to include a BBC pay stub and contents of her personal email.
Johnson has played down expectations of an immediate breakthrough in Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, but her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said it was important that he was making the visit before she appeared in court. In his meetings with senior Iranian officials, Johnson is expected to discuss measures on how to ease relations, including resolving banking issues.
“I’m waiting on tenterhooks – biting my nails,” Ratcliffe told the Guardian. “I’m really pleased he is there in time for Nazanin’s trial and waiting to see what will happen, and trying not to have too clear expectations at all.”
Ratcliffe said Johnson would try to visit his wife in jail and meet the head of the Iranian judiciary, which acts independently of the country’s government and is responsible for the handling of her case. It was not clear if any of those meetings would take place.
Ratcliffe had previously asked Johnson to take him to Tehran so that he could meet his wife after 19 months, but that did not materialise. “If I’m blunt, it is better that he is there in time for her trial than he and I go there after her trial and she’s been sentenced to more years,” said Ratcliffe. “Obviously I want her to be home – it’s better to see her than not see her for months and months and months.”
He added: “I’m more hopeful, with the announcement of him going. It feels to me that there are no guarantees but that it is possible that she would be home for Christmas. And that possibility is worth holding on to.”