My British husband is jailed inside Iran. If Boris Johnson wants to be a world leader, here’s what he should do

By negotiating the release of the British-Iranian dual nationals at the height of this volatile state of affairs, the prime minister can send a signal that active diplomacy and goodwill always prevail over the military solution

Sherry Izadi
Wednesday 08 January 2020 12:12 GMT
Who was powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani?

“Any update?” This was my husband Anoosheh Ashoori’s first comment when we talked on the phone this week. He spoke in a voice that betrayed his rising anxiety.

Today is day 878 of Anoosheh’s arbitrary detention in Evin prison in Iran, convicted of the preposterous crime of spying for Israel’s Mossad. The closest activity to espionage he has engaged in has been to watch James Bond movies with me.

Anoosheh is a retired engineer with a passion for space, Charles Darwin and making gadgets that make life easier for his family. He is a peaceful, decent human being who has always stayed away from politics.

The recent assassination of General Qassem Soleimani​ has dealt the most major blow to the case of dual nationals imprisoned in Iran, ironically at a time when our hopes of their return had been at their highest in the wake of Xiyue Wang’s release.

The Princeton scholar was freed during a prisoner swap with the United States, which led us all to believe – naively, in retrospect – that if the US had successfully negotiated an American national’s release, despite having no formal ties to Iran for the past 40 years, Boris Johnson would be able to achieve more due to the UK and Europe’s closer understanding with Iran. That understanding was demonstrated by their continued compliance with the Iranian nuclear deal despite Donald Trump’s withdrawal from it.

Trump’s ill-considered move to assassinate Soleimani has highlighted the Americans’ outright ignorance of Iran’s culture of martyrdom and reverence for those killed in the line of “religious duty”. His action has merely served to unite a country that had become divided in the wake of bloody protests against the petrol price hike and the dire economic situation, making the regime fearful of a very low turnout in the forthcoming parliamentary election. Soleimani’s death has brought the people together in their hatred of the “imperialists.”

Johnson has a choice: to blindly side with his American counterpart who, in continuation of his irrational approach, has threatened to take the unlawful step of destroying cultural sites in Iran, which risks incurring the anger of his other allies and their nations; or to embark on a course that will boost his popularity at home and endorse the UK’s position as being independent on the world stage and subservient to no one.

By negotiating the release of the British-Iranian dual nationals at the height of this volatile state of affairs, Johnson can send a signal that active diplomacy and goodwill always prevail over the military solution. Instead of sympathising with a president whose actions are facing mounting backlash from his own party and the international community, the prime minister will be validating the rational approach and ever-growing need for robust diplomacy.

The Iranians will most likely be amenable to negotiation, to prove their willingness to cooperate with “the voice of reason” and demonstrate that they welcome the non-hostile solution.

The efficacy of this calm approach to international diplomacy may perhaps be illustrated in the case of another European dual national.

Several weeks ago, French president Emmanuel Macron summoned the Iranian ambassador to hold Iran to account over its arbitrary detention of French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah. The Iranians’ response was the usual rhetoric – that Iran does not recognise dual nationality and the French had no right to interfere. However, this week her lawyer announced that charges of spying against her had been dropped.

What magic wand did Macron wave? Maybe he can share his knowledge with the Foreign Office and the foreign secretary Dominic Raab so there is no more “urging” the Iranians to do the right thing. Clearly, “urging” or “strongly urging” (a much dreaded, but oft-used, word) has not yielded results.

As long as the British government insists on adhering to its current fruitless approach to the fate of dual nationals, innocent individuals such as my husband Anoosheh and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will continue to languish inside Evin prison, deprived of their loved ones.

It is the time for decisive diplomacy, not tentative and superficial attempts. It is the time for Boris Johnson to demonstrate to the international community that he is his own man.

Sherry Izadi is the wife of imprisoned British-Iranian citizen Anoosheh Ashoori, who is jailed in Iran

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