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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

UK minister to raise Iran's 'destabilising' actions in Tehran visit

Alistair Burt also expected to push for release of detained dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embraces her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran following her release from prison for three days (AFP)
 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embraces her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran following her release from prison for three days (AFP)

The UK’s Middle East minister has taken a strong stance against Iran's regional role, hours before holding talks in Tehran where he was expected to raise the case of detained dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Junior Foreign Minister Alistair Burt met Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi on Saturday, Iranian state television reported.

"The talks mainly covered economic cooperation and mechanisms of financial and monetary dealings between the two countries after the US withdrawal from the nuclear accord," the television report said.

But Mr Burt was also expected to press Iran on its “destabilising” activity in Yemen and Syria during his two days in the country.

“During my visit this week I will stress that Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its destabilising activities in the Middle East must be addressed,” Mr Burt said ahead of his visit.

“I will also use the opportunity of my visit to push for the resolution we all want to see in the cases of the British dual nationals detained in Iran,” he added.

Mr Burt's trip is the first by a British minister since the United States renewed sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained since April 2016 over allegations she was spying on the Iranian regime, which she has denied. The 40-year-old said she was on holiday visiting family but was sentenced to five years in prison.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was briefly released for three days last week to spend time with family and see her young daughter. Upon returning to hospital she was hospitalised after passing out.

The foreign office did not directly mention her case but given the uproar over Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s treatment, it is likely it will be discussed. British-Iranian Kamal Foroughi, a 78-year-old businessman, was arrested by the Iranian regime in May 2011 and jailed on espionage charges for eight years in 2013.

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The UK’s new foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, has been particularly vocal about Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and has been praised over the fresh impetus he has injected into the case.

“Looks like Iranian legal system is impervious to the simple fact at the heart of this: an innocent woman is desperate to be reunited with her family. Spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif on Fri but that clearly wasn’t enough. The fight goes on #FreeNazanin,” he tweeted earlier this week.

“All our thoughts and prayers with Nazanin and her family today. Unbearable suffering to be apart from daughter with her hopes raised then dashed. We must redouble efforts to find a way to get her home,” Mr Hunt added.

European countries have pulled out of deals with Iran and the Rial has plummeted as the Trump administration renewed sanctions against Tehran. The UK and EU have disagreed with the move that is projected to savage Iran’s vital oil industry.

“Our support for the nuclear deal, though, does not prevent us strongly challenging Iran on issues where we disagree,” said Mr Burt.