British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson with Iran’s Ali Shamkhani in Tehran © AFP

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Iran’s top security official has complained to UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson about the “passivity” of the signatories to the historic nuclear deal with the country after US President Donald Trump refused to certify it.

The UK Foreign Office said Mr Johnson had held “frank” talks with his Iranian counterpart over the case of imprisoned Briton Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the charity worker who is said to be close to a nervous breakdown in Iran’s notorious Evin jail on charges of acting against national security.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said the Islamic Republic would respond proportionately if the landmark agreement was breached during a meeting with Mr Johnson, who is visiting Iran in an effort to secure the release of an Iranian-British aid worker detained for 20 months.

“Considering the passivity of other sides [including Europeans] vis-à-vis inappropriate behaviour of Washington, Iran will make necessary decisions based on its national interests . . . which could include going back to the pre-agreement era,” Mr Shamkhani said.

Mr Johnson was quoted by Iranian news agencies as saying that “the full implementation of the nuclear deal benefits global peace and stability”.

Mr Johnson was forced to apologise last month after he said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “teaching people journalism” when she was arrested in April 2016. This was while her family and her employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, had long argued that she was merely on holiday.

The low-profile coverage of Mr Johnson’s visit in Iranian media has fuelled speculation that Iran may have agreed to release Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe soon despite the foreign secretary’s remarks and opposition by hardline forces, including the elite Revolutionary Guards that arrested her.

Iranian analysts expect Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe to join her British husband and young daughter for Christmas on legal grounds which make her subject to parole thanks to having served one-third of her five-year term.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had only intermittent access to her daughter since being arrested while her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has been denied a visa to enter Iran since his wife’s detention.

Mr Ratcliffe has said that paying a longstanding British £400m debt to Iran unpaid due to sanctions on the country’s military would encourage Iran to comply with its own international obligations.

The UK has denied her case is linked to the debt.

The centrist government of Hassan Rouhani — which is under mounting pressure from the administration of Mr Trump over the nuclear accord as well as the Islamic regime’s regional policies and an ambitious missile programme — is struggling to keep on good terms with European states.

The policy is aimed at preventing an international consensus against Iran and keeping Europeans away from the US on Iran policies. Britain, France and Germany which are signatories of the 2015 agreement, along with the US, Russia and China, remain strong supporters of the deal and have urged the US administration not to dismantle the international agreement.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed shortcomings in the implementation of the agreement notably banking problems with Mr Johnson, according to local media. Although Iran suspended almost all its nuclear activities in return for lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, international banks refuse to handle Iranians’ financial transactions on fears of risking the US’s wrath.

The British Foreign Office said that Mr Johnson and Mr Zarif had “discussed the full range of bilateral issues and they both spoke frankly about the obstacles in the relationship, including the Foreign Secretary’s concerns about the consular cases of British-Iranian dual nationals”.

If the nuclear deal is preserved, Iran might enter talks with European states over Tehran’s involvement across the Middle East which western governments find destabilising. Iran rejects allegations and insists its role has helped to stabilise the region notably by helping to defeat Isis in Iraq and Syria.

Western diplomats in Tehran say the conflict in Yemen could be a starting point where Iran is suspected of arming Houthi rebels as part of its power struggle with top regional rival, Saudi Arabia. Mr Johnson on Thursday called for Britain to re-engage in the region, including doing “more to resolve the conflict in Yemen”.

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