Boris Johnson’s visit ends with no public advance over political prisoner


UPDATE 1800 GMT: The Iranian judiciary has suspended Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s court hearing today.

“I, as the head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, declare that no court session has been held for Ms. Nazanin Zaghari today,” the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, Moussa Qazanfarabadi, said.

Qazanfarabadi claimed that there was never any intention to summon Zaghari-Radcliffe on Sunday, saying these were “unreal reports” by “western media”.

He also indicated that the judiciary is stepping back from recent threats to extend the political prisoner’s sentence, saying that there are no new charges against her and so reports of an extension are “flawed”.

UPDATE 1130 GMT: UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Iran has ended with no announcement about the status of Anglo-Iranian political prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Johnson met the Secretary of the National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, and President Hassan Rouhani.

In a brief statement, Johnson and Rouhani agreed that Britain and Iran want to make progress “on the removal of all obstacles in the Anglo-Iranian relationship”.

The hour-long meeting between the two men officially considered US and UK banking restrictions on the Islamic Republic and UK concerns “about the consular cases of dual nationals”.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Johnson and Rouhani “spoke forthrightly about the obstacles in the relationship and agreed on the need to make progress in all areas”.

UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has had discussions in Iran seeking the release of Anglo-Iranian political Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe — but Tehran’s officials and media have maintained silence on the matter.

The UK Foreign Office said on Saturday that Johnson’s talks with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif were “frank and constructive” over Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an employee of the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was seized in April 2016 returning from a visit to family in Tehran. She was subsequently given a five-year sentence, amid a series of detentions of dual nationals by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Iran’s State media avoided any mention of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, headlining that Johnson and Zarif had discusses the July 2015 nuclear deal and “economic ties”. The conservative daily Tasnim tried to convert Johnson’s appearance into a show of support of Tehran, which is facing toughened US sanctions: “Britain Reiterates Commitment to JCPOA”, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran’s nuclear program.

A UK Foreign Office spokesman carefully framed the two-hour talks, not making any specific reference to Zaghari-Ratcliffe: “[They] spoke frankly about the obstacles in [their countries’] relationship, including the Foreign Secretary’s concerns about the consular cases of British-Iranian dual nationals.”

Despite Johnson’s visit Iran’s judiciary has scheduled another court hearing for Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Sunday, continuing its threat to increase her five-year sentence to 15 years.

This autumn Iranian authorities have pursued a campaign of pressure against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose toddler daughter Gabriella is still in Tehran with the charity worker’s mother. A day after Johnson erroneously said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “teaching foreign journalists”, she was summoned to court for renewed charges of attempts to overthrow the Iranian regime. A campaign on State TV has featured specious “evidence” that her employment in 2009-2010 with BBC Media Action, an outreach program for media and development, was proof of her regime-change activities.

Richard Ratcliffe, who has been blocked by Iranian officials from seeing his wife, said on Saturday, “I am obviously watching closely with hope, fingers crossed and excitement – I couldn’t sleep at all last night.”

Rouhani’s Olive Branch to Saudi Arabia

President Hassan Rouhani says Iran can restore relations with Saudi Arabia if the kingdom ends its military intervention in Yemen’s civil war and cuts links with Israel.

Addressing Parliament on Sunday, Rouhani said, “Saudi Arabia should suspend it bombardment of Yemen and stop begging for contacts with the Zionist regime. We want Saudi Arabia to stop two things: the misguided friendship with Israel and the inhuman bombardment of Yemen.”

Saudi Arabia cut relations with Iran in January 2016 after a crowd attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, protesting Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric.

Rouhani also repeated his denunciation of Donald Trump’s recognition last week of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel:

After regional powers’ conspiracy to let terrorist groups dominate the oppressed people in the region was defeated, the Americans today have launched a new plot with the help of the Zionists, which is an aggression on the sacred Quds [Jerusalem].

We were not, are not and will not be silent in the face of the conspiracies of the big powers, the US, the arrogance, and Zionism.

Former Bank Head Given 20-Year Sentence in $2.6 Billion Fraud

The former head of Iran’s largest State-controlled bank, who fled to Canada, has been given a 20-year prison sentence in absentia for his role in a $2.6 billion fraud.

Mahmoud Reza Khavari, who led Bank Melli Iran, was sentenced for “disrupting the economic system,” said Moussa Ghazanfarabadi, the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court.

Ghazanfarabadi said Khavari had also been handed a 10-year sentence for bribery to run concurrently. The former banker has been fined $6 million.

Khavari, who obtained Canadian citizenship in 2005, joined his family there in 2011 in the wake of the fraud. Canada has refused extradition, citing the absence of a bilateral treaty.

A co-defendant was executed by hanging in Tehran in 2014.