Iran, An Important Key for British Locks

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Etemad Persian Daily Interview with Majid Tafreshi

Today (August 23, 2015), a new chapter was opened in history of Iran's relations with Britain. About four years ago and after Iranian students stormed the UK embassy in Tehran, London decided to close its embassy in Iran while ordering Iranian diplomats in London to leave the country. Following the election of the 11th administration in Iran, there were new hopes about improvement of relations between the two countries with Tehran and London taking steps to reduce tensions. As a result, the two countries elevated their relations to the level of nonresident chargé d'affaires and started negotiations for the reopening of their respective embassies. Following the achievement of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers and at a time that European countries were racing to go back to Iran, Britain sped up the process of reopening its embassy. Now, after the lapse of four years, the two countries have reopened their embassies on each other’s soil. This development has been discussed in the following interview with Majid Tafreshi, a UK analyst.

Q: Iran and the UK reopened their embassies on Sunday August 23, 2015. What is your opinion about the process of the reopening of embassies in the past two years?

A: Relations between Iran and Britain, at least in the past two centuries, especially under Iran's Qajar dynasty and its successor, the Pahlavi rule, and also following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, have been marked with many ups and downs. This brief opportunity is not sufficient to explore and even list all sensitive developments in bilateral relations. During the nearly past 13 years, when Iran's nuclear activities had turned into an excuse as well as a serious challenge and obstacle on the way of Iran-West relations, especially Tehran-London ties, the British government, both under the Labor party and under the coalition government led by the conservatives, played an important role to create, spread, direct and coordinate Iranophobia. This came despite the background that Iran had cooperated and interacted in an effective and constructive way with European countries, especially the UK, at various junctures, including the fall of the Baathist government in Iraq and the Taliban state in Afghanistan, and also in fighting production, smuggling and transit of narcotics from Afghanistan to the West. As a result, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who as a staunch ally of then warmongering US administration, admitted in the later years of his term that whether they liked Iran or not, resolution of many disputes and problems in the Middle East region would not be possible without Iran's help and participation.

However, in the course of Iran's nuclear case, both the British Labor government and the coalition conservative government not only accompanied the United States and other European countries in their measures against Iran, but in some instances went beyond the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union, and pioneered measures that were aimed at weakening and isolating Iran and dealing blows to the country. Such measures as imposing sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and withholding fuel from Iran's passenger and civilian planes were only a few examples in which London took steps against Iran unilaterally and without necessary legal authorization. Later on, London conducted lobbying efforts across Europe and within the Security Council to convince other Western states to back the adoption and implementation of sanctions resolutions against Iran.

Under those conditions and in late November 2011, the British embassy in Tehran was occupied by a group who apparently introduced themselves as Basijis. I believe that this measure, which had many negative and destructive consequences for the national interests of Iran, can be considered as an unwise response to an unjust policy. In fact, such behavior on the part of this group of people and ultimately Iran cut relations between Iran and Britain and restricted Iran's relations with many other European countries. In practice, they actually banged their faces against the enemy’s fist and provided warmongers and those spreading Iranophobia across the world with a good opportunity by giving them a chance to prove their allegations about Iran being indifferent to principles of international relations.

After the election of the new Iranian president in July 2012 and coming of President Hassan Rouhani's administration to office, both London and Tehran made up their minds to review their relations and the way they interacted, and to find a new solution for the resumption of bilateral, regional and international relations. Around the same time, a four-member British parliamentary delegation traveled to Iran to congratulate the victory of Iran's “administration of foresight and hope” in line with an initiative by the British Prime Minister David Cameron. Of course, there were some cases that stalled the process of improvement and normalization of relations, including an anti-Iran address at the UN General Assembly last year and differences between the British Home Office and Foreign Office with regard to the quality of reopening their embassy in Tehran. During the past two years, there has been no practical problem for the improvement and promotion of relations, and London’s dawdling was the only reason that prevented this from happening. At last, following the historical and fateful nuclear agreement clinched by Iran and world powers in Vienna last month, and due to various objections by British businesspeople and thinkers and think tanks, London took serious measures to put the restoration of bilateral ties with Tehran on its agenda.

Q: What message can be embedded in the presence of a person like the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Tehran for the reopening of his country’s embassy in Iran?

A: The presence of the British foreign secretary in Tehran indicates seriousness of London for repairing the past relations between the two countries. In reality, when Alistair Burt was Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the British Foreign Office, most people making decisions on Iran, the Middle East and the Islamic world at that ministry were supporters of Israel. Of course, relations between London and Tel Aviv are still strategic and profound, but it seems that unlike the past years, the supporters of Israel do not have the upper hand at the British Foreign Office anymore, especially with regard to decisions that are made on relations with Iran. The incumbent conservative government did not need to send its foreign secretary to Iran for the reopening of its embassy in Tehran. However, such a decision is the sign of their serious resolve to change the existing situation and indicates an effort on their part to open a new chapter in bilateral ties with Iran.

Q: To what extent the recent nuclear deal has been influential in prompting recent visits to Iran by Mr. Hammond and other high-ranking officials of European countries?

A: On the one hand, Britain considers nuclear agreements in Geneva, Lausanne and Vienna as signs of the firm resolve of the two sides of those deals to change conditions and review their past policies. On the other hand, during the past 13 years, especially in the past four years that the two countries’ diplomatic missions have been closed, and particularly in the two years that have passed from the election of the new administration in Iran, Britain has had a strong feeling that it is lagging behind its European allies in terms of economic, diplomatic and political interaction with Iran. Also, at a time that according to many experts, Iran is a key to resolution of regional and international economic and strategic problems, Britain felt that it had easily lost the Iranian option and market and had ignored it. Now it seems that improvement of bilateral relations will be the beginning of a new approach by London to the issue of Iran.

Q: What issues do you think are among the two countries’ top priorities; development of political relations or expansion of trade and economic ties?

A: Both countries need each other in matters of trade and economy and also in political and diplomatic terms. Iran is a trustworthy and important market for public and private European investors not because its population is close to 80 million people, but because when people in adjacent regions that are under Iran's influence are taken into account, the population figure of that market rises to about 400 million. In the meantime, Iran's energy market, especially transit of Iran's oil and gas or transit of Central Asian oil and gas through Iran is an important and strategic issue for London and the rest of Europe.

On the other hand, London is well aware that resolution of problems in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and even Yemen would not be possible without participation and interaction of Iran. The past experience for isolating, weakening and ignoring Iran during the past three decades has been proven ineffective and unfruitful. Iran, on the other hand, attaches importance to ties with London for the resolution of international problems because in terms of trade and economy, London is a major hub of decisions made by investors and policymakers in these fields, and Iran's powerful presence in this country is a necessity that cannot be easily ignored.

In addition to these issues, when it comes to issues of strategic and security importance such as fighting terrorism, ISIS and al-Qaeda, Iran can play the role of an important key to end the existing deadlocks facing the West, in general, and Britain, in particular. Of course, this needs the show of goodwill and a change in London’s past policies, which will transpire in the future.

For Iran, London is a good hub and place for serious and real promotion of nongovernmental agenda of its public diplomacy and continuation of its efforts to win the hearts and minds of policymakers, independent elites, media and the public opinion on two European and international levels. This is an opportunity of which Iran has taken good and correct advantage so far, but should also take it more seriously than before as soon as possible.

Q: Will the British foreign secretary’s Tehran visit pave the way for a visit to London by an Iranian high-ranking official?

A: Mr. Danesh Yazdi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, was in London on Sunday (August 23, 2015) to attend the reopening ceremony of Iran's embassy in Britain. However, a visit by higher ranking Iranian officials to London is quite probable in the near future. [Iran's Foreign Minister] Mr. [Mohammad Javad] Zarif will naturally reciprocate his British counterpart’s visit. However, it must be noted that further expansion and deepening of Tehran’s relations with London has enemies on both sides and expansion of those ties must not be done in a hasty manner.

Key Words: Iran, Britain, Relations, Reopening of Embassies, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Philip Hammond, Hassan Rouhani, Nuclear Deal, Middle East, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, EU, Israel, David Cameron, US, UN, Afghanistan, Tafreshi

Source: Etemad Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Majid Tafreshi:

*From Britain’s Efforts for Hong Kongization of the Iranian Islands to Saddam Army’s Communiqués:

*Cutting UK Ties Is a Mistake:

*A Threat with Unpredictable Consequences:

*Photo Credit: Fararu, ISNA