Australian foreign minister speaks with Iran over imprisoned academic

Australia’s foreign minister has spoken with her Iranian counterpart about a British-Australian academic imprisoned in Tehran who recently begged for diplomatic intervention to secure her release.

Marise Payne spoke to Mohammad Javad Zarif about Cambridge-educated Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s case on Thursday while attending a conference in India, a spokesman for Ms Payne’s office told the PA news agency.

“This is not a detention that we support, we don’t accept the charges,” Ms Payne told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke with his Australian counterpart in India (Manish Swarup/AP)

Dr Moore-Gilbert has been in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for more than a year while reportedly serving a 10-year sentence, writing in a letter recently smuggled out that she had been attending a conference in the country when an interview subject “flagged me as suspicious to the Revolutionary Guards”.

She also wrote: “I beg of you, Prime Minister (Scott) Morrison, to take immediate action, as my physical and mental health continues to deteriorate with every additional day that I remain imprisoned in these conditions.”

The academic is held in the same prison as Britons Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.

Meanwhile, the UK’s ambassador to Iran has returned to London for talks after being labelled “persona non grata” by Iran’s judiciary, with an effigy of the envoy burned in Tehran by hardline protesters.

Pro-government protesters set fire to a life-size cut-out of Britain’s ambassador Rob Macaire (Vahid Salemi/AP)

The Foreign Office sought to play down the significance of his trip to the UK, with sources insisting it was a planned visit for talks and he would return to Tehran.

The ambassador was arrested and briefly detained on Saturday after attending a vigil for the 176 people, including four Britons, killed when Iran accidentally downed a Ukrainian jet.

Whitehall sources insisted his visit was routine and he would use it as an opportunity to brief officials and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, @BorisJohnson, stated, “We should replace the Iran deal with the Trump deal.” I agree!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2020

The Foreign Office said it was “very much business as usual” and the envoy would “be returning to Iran in the coming days”.

The latest developments come after the UK, France and Germany began action against Iran over its failure to comply with the terms of its nuclear deal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that Donald Trump could produce an alternative nuclear deal after the current accord was undermined by the US withdrawal from it.

The US president responded on Twitter, saying he agreed that a “Trump deal” was the way forward – although so far Washington has yet to produce any alternative to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement.

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