Why Zarif’s Recent London Visit Must Be Taken Seriously?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Majid Tafreshi
Historian and Analyst of Iran, UK Relations

A recent two-day trip to London by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his accompanying delegation must be seriously taken into account from various viewpoints. The first and foremost motivation for making this trip was taking part in an international meeting, which aimed to collect financial and logistical aid from international community for war-stricken and refugee people of Syria both inside and outside that country. Zarif, however, also used the trip as an opportunity to talk to a number of political and diplomatic officials taking part at the event, including his British and American counterparts. He also took part in a number of important research sessions and addressed the audience. For more than two centuries, the depth and scope of Tehran’s relations with London have been mixed with all kinds of incrimination, suspicion, ambiguity, grievances and blame game on both sides of this relationship. In this case, for a variety of reasons, which are both obvious and outside the scope of this article and also due to the quality of and the special approach taken in bilateral relations, the degree of suspicion and criticism on the part of Iran has been much higher than the opposite side.

During the tumultuous history of the two countries’ relations, especially since the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry and the coup d’état on August 19, 1953 in Iran, the issue of existence or absence as well as the quality, depth and scope of Tehran’s relations with London have been among few issues, which have had serious Iranian and non-Iranian critics within the political systems of the two countries. These issues have also had serious critics outside the establishment and among opposition groups in the two countries.

More than four years have passed since the severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2011, due to unwise and unjustifiable storming of the British embassy in Tehran by apparently rogue elements. Following the historic victory of Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election and gradual success in the nuclear talks between Iran and six big world powers, which was followed by a visit to Iran by the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, relations between Tehran and London gradually improved. Now with Zarif’s trip to London and in view of the forthcoming restart in issuing visas by the two countries, one can expect bilateral relations between the two countries to reach their highest degree and capacity.

As said before, during recent years, there have existed serious and remarkable reasons for Iranians to be concerned about Britain’s intervention in Iran as well as about unfair and unjust behavior of different governments in London toward Tehran. Apart from historical reasons, during eight years in which Iran was under international sanctions, London was on many occasions the vanguard of efforts made to mount pressure on Iran. Imposition of various kinds of inhuman and anti-Iranian sanctions by Britain in the absence of any relevant domestic, European, and international legislation in this regard, including banning supply of fuel to Iran's passenger planes and imposing sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, were among those measures which were taken on Britain’s own initiative. After such measures were taken, London tried through regional and global lobbying to give legitimacy and legal basis to its measures. During the past two and a half years and subsequent to fundamental changes in the attitudes and approaches on both sides of Iran's nuclear case, Britain’s approach to Iran somehow improved and changed. Since that time, London, on the whole, took relatively constructive and positive positions in a bid to help Europe and the United States achieve a relatively fair agreement and win-win game with Iran over the country’s nuclear issues.

In reality, Britain is important and indispensable to Iran and the national interests of Iran from a number of viewpoints. From one viewpoint, Britain is one of the main Western countries, which enjoys good financial, banking, credit, investment, academic, technological, scientific and industrial capacities, and can be an important partner for Iran in the period of economic reconstruction of the country and at a time when Tehran aims to boost its power as well as political and strategic credit. Within the European Union, Britain is also one of the three main powers of this zone, which is not only important per se as a power, but can also influence decisions made by smaller members of the European Union. At the same time, London has had positive, effective and long-lasting strategic relations with various countries in such regions as the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and North Africa and, as such, has been influencing those countries’ relations with Iran. Naturally, having peaceful and balanced ties with Britain can also influence Iran's relations with countries in these regions in medium and long terms and be positive from this viewpoint.

On the other hand, London’s special, unbreakable, and strategic relations with Washington and the impact that Britain’s policy has on the United States are also among other factors that boost the importance of peaceful, balanced and vast relations between Tehran and London.

To the above collection must be added the presence of about 300,000 Iranian elites, most of them influential figures, in Britain, who are potential and active assets, which cannot be ignored when trying to meet Iran's short-term and strategic interests. Zarif’s trip to London and his talks during past days with various British officials from Britain’s prime minister to foreign secretary and secretary of the exchequer, and also interaction with and making various speeches at different gatherings of the British elites and among a number of Iranian elites living in Britain, have been of very high importance and their positive results for Iran's national interests must be expected. Zarif’s brilliant and accurate speech and the question and answer session that followed it at the Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs in London constituted one of the brilliant examples of his scientific strength and profound understanding, on the one hand, and the foresight and efficiency of Iran's new diplomacy at international level, on the other hand.

During that speech, Zarif gave skillful and accurate answers to many questions posed by Western and non-Western elites and thinkers, who were present in that meeting, with regard to Iran and international community. Zarif also took part in a very friendly and pleasant meeting with a number of Iranian elites in Britain to show that the new Iranian administration is determined to engage in real and strategic interaction with Iranian expatriates and has been counting on support of these group of Iranians, especially following the achievement of the nuclear deal with world powers, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Despite all these efforts, the Iranian government is still very far from real understanding and use of the undeniable importance of cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy, and the role that unofficial and nongovernmental efforts can play in true and long-term realization of Iran's national interests in the West and also in conquering the hearts and minds of international community.

Zarif’s recent trip to London must be taken seriously and we must wait to see its gradual and positive outcomes. When Iran's relations with Britain are involved, sometimes some people talk about the necessity of forgetting or forgiving Britain’s improper behavior or wrongdoings to Iran. I, however, believe that when dealing with Britain, Iran needs neither to forgive, nor to forget. However, it must be clearly stated that in view of the high number of ill-wishers in the region and the world, who are plotting against Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran's national interests and expediencies call on us to take improving and expansion of the two countries’ relations seriously without allowing ill-wishers in the two countries to prevent continuation and expansion of these relations.

Key WordsMohammad Javad Zarif, London Visit, Syria, Tehran, Philip Hammond, Britain’s Intervention, Iran, Britain’s Policy, Washington, Chatham House, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tafreshi

Source: Etemad Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: Tehran Times, Tasnim News 

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