Despite serious diplomatic errors by the foreign secretary and Michael Gove, this impasse with Tehran can be solved. But we need a change of approach
• Malcolm Rifkind was a foreign secretary in the Major government
By any standard the fate, so far, of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an innocent woman incarcerated in an Iranian prison, is tragic and deeply disturbing. That she has not been well served by the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and the environment secretary, Michael Gove, is impossible to contest and I will not try to do so. However, sometimes even a cock-up – even one as serious as that which Johnson this afternoon sought to ameliorate with an apology – can lead to significant benefits in the curious world of international diplomacy.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already been in prison since April 2016. Her arrest and sentencing were reported by the media but only intermittently, and as one among many items. She has not, until recently, been a major news story even in the United Kingdom.
Foreign secretaries are different. Foreign governments scrutinise every word and every nuance