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UK foreign secretary to press Iranian FM on prisoners, nuclear deal

In her first overseas trip as new UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City this week.
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom’s new foreign secretary will meet her Iranian counterpart to discuss detained British nationals and stalled efforts to revive the nuclear deal, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said Monday. 

In her first overseas trip as foreign secretary, Liz Truss will hold talks on Monday with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City this week. 

“I will be asking Iran to ensure the immediate and permanent release of all arbitrarily detained British nationals in Iran, and to begin working with us to mend our fractured relations,” Truss said in a statement. 

The statement said Truss will call for the release of UK nationals including British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who will mark her 2,000th day in detention this week. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested at Tehran’s airport in April 2016, is banned from leaving Iran despite having completed her original five-year prison sentence. 

The other known British-Iranian nationals held in Iran are Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired engineer, and Morad Tahbaz, an environmentalist who also holds US citizenship. 

Rights groups accuse Iran of jailing dual nationals and foreigners to gain leverage for sanctions relief, the unfreezing of assets and other concessions from their home countries. According to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, at least 16 dual nationalsfrom the United States, France, Austria, Canada and Sweden are currently known to be held in Iran on baseless spying or other vague charges.  

The Islamic Republic is also holding at least four Iranian-Americans, including father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, businessman Emad Shargi and Tahbaz. The Biden administration has held indirect talks with Tehran over the prisoners, and in July, US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley said the negotiations had “made some progress.”

Senior State Department official Erica Barks-Ruggles declined to say whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken would meet with Amir-Abdollahian in New York this week, telling reporters, “We anticipate that our discussions will continue in the Vienna format.”

Following his inauguration in August, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi named Amir-Abdollahian as Tehran’s chief diplomat. Amir-Abdollahian replaced former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the US-educated architect of the nuclear deal who had served in the role since 2013.

Shortly after Raisi’s election in June, Iran suspended talks on salvaging the landmark nuclear accord, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. No date has been set for a seventh round of talks between Tehran and world powers.

In her meeting with Amir-Abdollahian, Truss said she will call on Iran to return to negotiating table “before it is too late.” 

“The UK, US and our international partners are fully committed to a nuclear deal, but every day that Iran continues to delay talks whilst escalating its own nuclear program means there is less space for diplomacy,” Truss said in a statement.

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