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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

UK's Johnson meets Sultan of Oman ahead of Iran visit

He landed in Oman on Friday to meet Sultan Qaboos to help 'smooth the way' for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in an Iranian prison for than a year

UK's foreign secretary Boris Johnson presents a speech on terrorism to an audience of academics, diplomats and members of the media at the Foreign Office in London on December 7, 2017. Victoria Jones / AFP
UK's foreign secretary Boris Johnson presents a speech on terrorism to an audience of academics, diplomats and members of the media at the Foreign Office in London on December 7, 2017. Victoria Jones / AFP

UK’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson arrived in Iran on Saturday to press for the release of a British-Iranian woman accused of espionage.

He stopped in Oman on Friday to meet with Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said to help “smooth the way” for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in an Iranian prison for than a year.

According to the state-run Oman News Agency, the two men met to discuss relations between their countries and the latest regional developments.

“Yes, bilateral issues and the situation in Yemen are in the cards, but the highlight of [Mr Johnson’s] visit is the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe,” said the official, who spoke to The National on condition of anonymity.

“Mr Johnson is hoping the Sultan will smooth the way to secure her release.”

The source also said that Iran may use Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case as a bargaining chip to assure the survival of Iran’s nuclear deal and “to get the US and Saudi Arabia off its back in the situation of Yemen”, where Iran is backing Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally-recognised government.

Mr Johnson's visit was the first by a top British diplomat since 2015 and is expected to discuss that year's nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, whose future has been thrown into doubt by US president Donald Trump.

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His visit also comes amid accusations at home that one of his gaffes has seriously harmed the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in 2016 after visiting relatives with her daughter.

She was accused of having links to protests in 2009 — which she denies — and sentenced to five years in jail.

Last month, the Iranian authorities filed additional charges of "spreading propaganda" and will present her in court again on Sunday.

Her case has become highly politicised, especially after a "slip of the tongue" by Mr Johnson last month when he stated that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Iran, which has been used by the Iranian authorities to help justify the new charges.

After his Iran visit, Mr Johnson is expected to visit the UAE on Sunday.