17 Sep 2013

New hope around Iran and a conversation with Tehran

Matters with Iran are at last on the move – after too many years of a proven bankrupt policy of non-engagement and a bullying sanctions regime.

Much of the policy on Iran has been driven by America, and beyond that by considerations of Israeli concerns about Iran’s developing nuclear programme.

At no point has anyone yet proved that Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Circumstantial evidence has been brought forward, but absolute proof has been in seriously short supply.

The United States has never recovered either from the Islamic revolution which overthrew its over-faithful ally, the shah.

More importantly, the US has never recovered from the humiliating seizure of 52 of its diplomats and its embassy in Iran a few months after the revolution itself. The hostage crisis lingered for 440 days and its after-burn of mistrust continues to this day.

Britain has enjoyed relations with Iran for several centuries until its embassy was invaded three years ago by rock-throwing hooligans. The incident did not appear to have been officially sanctioned, but the government nevertheless failed to get it under control, and the UK effectively broke relations.

Today, suddenly, a meeting between the British foreign secretary and Iran’s President Rouhani appears possible in the margins of next week’s UN General Assembly. Back channels of diplomatic activity have been reopened between Washington and Tehran – in part precisely because of the election of President Rouhani, and in part because of the escalating diplomacy surrounding Syria.

All this against a backdrop of the past 12 years in which vast events have unfolded on Iran’s porous borders: protest in Turkey, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, and, a country away, war in Syria.

To all these conflicts this great regional power has had the potential to play a huge diplomatic role – but it is a role that has been frustrated by the failure of talks about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Unlike India, Pakistan, and Israel, Iran is an active member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It has abided by some of its rules, allowing sporadic inspections, and not by others. But above all it is part of a mechanism that has brought about both inspection and dialogue – something that has not happened with any of its nuclear near neighbours.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to Professor Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour out of Tehran (see video).

He’s a professor of international relations in Tehran and has close contact with President Rouhani. We explored the relationship between the new opening to Iran over Syria and the stalled nuclear talks.

His conversation with me was highly instructive and, I would argue, extremely encouraging.

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7 reader comments

  1. Meg Howarth says:

    Thanks for this important post. Re-engagement with Iran probably the most important foreign-affairs step after the immediacy of the horrors of Syria. Re the latter: disgusted by France’s risible attempts to stride the global stage by upsetting the Lavrov/Kerry aka Russia/US diplomatic course, in which, I note, UK and US are also involving themselves. Seeing the (not so musical) chairs being constantly rearranged on the world deck as colonial has-beens try to stand on stilts is a useful lesson in the shenanigans of ‘representative’ democracies. Hope we learn.

  2. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    It seems that the people who desire peace are turning the tables around and are at last having a political impact. These few peaceful green shoots give us hope. When all seems lost, as in the lives of the Syrian refugees, then hope and family love is all there is left. Diplomacy should always take priority. Humanity may be starting to mature.

  3. Philip says:

    If re is any useful role the UK can play in the world, it is surely to promote dialogue rather than violence; to try to see the other side’s point of view so that we can understand why they are behaving as they do; to promote greater understanding rather than lining up behind the US. For domestic political reasons, the US seems largely blind to the illegal acts carried out by Israel, preferring to focus on what the Palestinians, etc do. Both sides have done some awful things – but US policy leans almost wholly on the Israeli side. that means that anyone who is the Israeli’s enemy is their enemy. This incredibly unhelpful and pushes countries who could play a useful stabilising role – like Iran – into the margins & encourages them to be more extreme that I believe they otherwise would be. The only way we can go forward – e.g. on Iran’s nuclear programme – is to build trust – and you can only do that through dialogue. (In practice it’s probably all we can afford, anyway)

  4. Meg Howarth says:

    Link here to Rouhani’s NYTimes interview: ‘Iran will never seek to build nuclear weapons’ deserves to be on this Snowblog: http://gu.com/p/3tq69/tw.

    Meantime, shame on today’s Financial Times with its strap-line ‘Rouhani steps up charm offensive’, implying Hassan Rouhani playing a game, rather than giving us the best hope yet for progress on nuclear disarmament.

  5. ade says:

    I used to rate C4 News but it has become a sounding board for green lefties and establishment propaganda on subjects like “climate change” and defaming people who,unlike shirt-tail lifting nobs ,would make a difference

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      What exactly is ‘the establishment propaganda on subjects like “climate change””?

    2. jon snow says:

      Ade, of all the charges you can lay at ‘the establishment’s’ door, I’m sorry to say that a serious interest in Climate Change is not one of them!

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