UK foreign minister calls Iran official over detained woman

November 7, 2017
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons in London, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Running for election mere months ago, British Prime Minister Theresa May's slogan was "strong and stable government." The phrase sounds cruelly ironic now, with several senior members of May's Cabinet under fire for missteps or under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has never been known for tact, so many were surprised when May made him Britain's top diplomat. Now he stands accused of endangering a British-Iranian woman who has been imprisoned in Iran with his loose talk. (PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s foreign secretary phoned his Iranian counterpart Tuesday to express “his anxiety over the continued suffering” of a British-Iranian woman being held in Iran and expressed contrition for remarks that prompted authorities to threaten to increase her jail sentence.

Boris Johnson urged authorities to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds and set out plans to visit Tehran to discuss the case.

Johnson has been under pressure to publicly correct a statement he made last week saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “simply teaching people journalism” when she was detained last year. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and her employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, insist she was merely visiting her family.

Johnson accepted Tuesday that “my remarks could have been clearer.”

“The U.K. government has no doubt that she was on holiday in Iran when she was arrested last year and that was the sole purpose of her visit,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year sentence for plotting the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government, was informed after Johnson’s comment to a parliamentary subcommittee that she faced more time in prison.

Britain’s Foreign Office said Johnson called his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday “to raise again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented.”

Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, has said Zaghari-Ratcliffe works as a project manager. It said she is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the foundation.

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Bahram Ghasemi, said Zarif pointed to the principle of separation of powers “and said the decision on this issue is in the hands of the Iranian judiciary.”

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