Sorry seems to be the hardest word—especially if your name is Boris Johnson.
On Monday, the British foreign secretary made a second attempt at apologizing for comments he made about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian national currently serving a five-year sentence as a political prisoner in Tehran. Johnson had claimed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “simply teaching journalism” when she was arrested in 2016 for allegedly plotting to “topple” the Iranian regime. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, had insisted along with her employer that she was in Iran on vacation; Iranian authorities seized on Johnson’s comments as evidence she was in the country for “anything but a holiday.” They have threatened Zaghari-Ratcliffe with new charges of spreading “propaganda against the regime,” which carries an additional five-year sentence.
“The British government has no doubt that Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran on holiday and that was the sole purpose of her visit,” Johnson said Monday. “I apologize to Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I had inadvertently caused them any further anguish.”
Johnson’s original response to the gaffe—arguably his most serious diplomatic blunder since taking on the role of foreign secretary in July 2016—was less apologetic. After facing backlash from fellow lawmakers and multiple calls to resign, Johnson conceded last week that his comments about Zaghari-Ratcliffe “could have been clearer,” though he stopped short of retracting them altogether. “My point was that I disagreed with the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime, not that I wanted to lend any credence to Iranian allegations that Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons. It was only after renewed calls for his dismissal, including appeals for Prime Minister Theresa May to fire him amid last week’s cabinet reshuffle, that Johnson offered a second, fuller apology.