The Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt arrived in Iran on Friday for the first such visit in several months, for talks on the imprisoned British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as well as the future of the Iran nuclear deal.
Burt, the minister for the Middle East, is the first UK minister to visit the country since the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May, dismaying the UK and other European nations.
He arrives two days after Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken to a prison hospitalafter a panic attack, following her return to jail from three days on temporary release with her daughter and other family members.
Earlier in the week Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, who has spent two years seeking her release over claims of spying, praised the new foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for taking a closer interest in the matter than his predecessor, Boris Johnson.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Ratcliffe said he had “sensed a change in the way he has prioritised Nazanin’s case”.
A Foreign Office spokesman did not name Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but said Burt would hold talks on “the cases of British dual-nationals detained in Iran”, as well as the nuclear deal and what the statement called “Iran’s destabilising activity in Syria and Yemen”.
Burt will meet Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, as well as other politicians and representatives of NGOs, the FCO said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years in jail after she was accused of spying. She insists she was on holiday. Her four-year-old daughter, Gabriella, has been staying with family since she was arrested in April 2016.
In comments released before his arrival, Burt said it was “a crucial moment for Iran’s relationship with the UK, and the wider world”.
He said: “Since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, we – along with European and international partners – have reiterated our support for the deal and have underscored this support through mechanisms such as EU blocking legislation.
“As long as Iran meets its commitments under the deal, we remain committed to it as we believe it is the best way to ensure a safe, secure future for the region.”
At the same time, Burt said, he would be “strongly challenging” Iran on issues such as its ballistic missile programme and actions in other Middle East countries.
Donald Trump announced in May that the US was pulling out of the painstakingly negotiated deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in return for an end to Tehran’s military nuclear ambitions.
Earlier in August, Hunt joined his French and German counterparts to voice their “deep regret” at Washington’s withdrawal from the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA), and vowed to protect European companies from US reprisals if they continue to trade with Iran.