Poor old Britain. I can almost feel sorry for her, trying to walk a tightrope in its relations with the totalitarian theocratic regime in Iran, wanting to maintain a diplomatic relationship with the Ayatollahs on the one hand, especially in the absence of an American presence in Tehran, and yet not wishing to side with unstable messianics who are well on their way to acquiring a nuclear weapons capability (if they haven’t done so already).
Events have now reached the stage where, after Iranian protestors (most likely government sponsored) stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, the Iranians expelled the British Ambassador, and Britain has responded by closing the Iranian Embassy in London and expelling its diplomats.
The BBC has a useful timeline (in reverse chronological order) on the deterioration of Iran-Britain ties in the last few months:
30 November 2011
Britain demands the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London, saying also that all Iranian diplomats must leave the country within 48 hours. Foreign Secretary William Hague also reveals that all UK diplomatic employees have already left Iran.
29 November 2011
Iranian protesters storm the UK embassy in Tehran, throwing stones, petrol bombs, and burning documents. They attempt to occupy it before being dispersed by riot police. The UK Foreign Office says it is “outraged” by the incident.
27 November 2011
The Iranian parliament votes to expel the British ambassador in Tehran, Dominick Chilcott. Economic and trade links with the UK are weakened.
21 November 2011
British Chancellor George Osborne announces financial sanctions against Iran as a result of a report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), into its nuclear programme. Britain ceases all ties with Iranian banks.
Britain has a long-standing “history” with Iran which has been a strong contributory factor in the bad blood playing out now on our TV screens. An analysis in the sidebar of this BBC article states:
In Iran’s iconography of villainy, Britain holds a special place. The UK is seen as the mastermind behind the overthrow of previous Iranian governments. Conservative hardliners believe Britain has in its blood the desire to decide who rules Iran.
Boaz Bismuth in Israel Hayom adds:
The Iranians have long-standing unfinished business with Britain. The British ambassador’s residence, attacked by mobs on Tuesday, was the location of the historic 1943 meeting between Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt known as the Tehran Conference.
The Iranians still remember the Aug. 25, 1941, British-Soviet invasion of their country. They remember how the British ousted Reza Shah Pahlavi, an acolyte of fascism and supporter of Hitler, to replace him with his son. They remember how the British and Soviets wrested control of their oil fields. All this explains the vehemence with which the president of the Iranian parliament on Wednesday decried British haughtiness. It also explains why the street where the British Embassy sits is named after Bobby Sands, a revered member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
On Nov. 21, Britain banned all financial transactions with the Iranian Central Bank. The U.S. and Canada also announced sanctions, but stopped short of completely severing financial ties. Britain’s step was brave for two reasons. First, because the U.K. was the first European country to impose such harsh sanctions, and second, because British diplomats were the only ones exposed to a potential Iranian backlash. The U.S. does not have an embassy in Tehran while Canada maintains limited diplomatic representation in the Islamic Republic.
Britain’s heavy sanctions will not stop the race toward a nuclear bomb. Tehran does not particularly believe anyone will attack it militarily, and therefore it does not believe in compromise. Tehran also believes its machine of repression can handle citizens who take to the streets to protest the sanctions’ impact on their daily lives.
Tehran does believe there is covert war underway against its nuclear program (that includes assassinations of scientists, bizarre computer viruses and mysterious explosions) and that the U.S., Israel and Britain are involved. If, in fact, there was an explosion at the Iranian nuclear facility in Isfahan this week, the Iranians would be convinced Britain had a hand in it.
And yet, with all this admirable diplomatic bravery, David Owen (former British Foreign Secretary I presume) feebly proposes:
A favourable negotiating opportunity with regards to Iran’s nuclear programme may present itself, particularly when Ahmadinejad’s presidency comes to an end. Until now, President Obama has wisely chosen a combination of dialogue, negotiation and sanctions with Iran. He has had some success with sanctions, mainly by resetting US relations with Russia.
The only resetting of relations was done by Russia, when they actively ignored American pleas to impose sanctions on Iran and Syria. So much for Obama’s diplomatic success.
Meanwhile Iranian opposition leaders want the US, EU and the UN to be relentless against human rights abuses and to develop tougher but more selective sanctions.
Britain’s strategy must remain one of acting within the UN Security Council and of involving Russia and China in progressive sanctions to stop Iran proceeding to the stage of acquiring nuclear weapons. It is devilishly difficult to deliver, as it means accepting Iran’s right to develop a programme of civil nuclear-powered reactors to produce electricity while seeking to prevent, through tougher sanctions, the simultaneous development of a nuclear weapons programme. Yet this hard-nosed strategy is the one that the UK should not abandon now or in the immediate future.
With all due respect, Owen needs his head examined. Why does Iran have a right, let alone a need, to develop civil nuclear power when it sits atop one of the world’s largest stores of oil? At any rate, Iran’s nuclear development is well past the stage of civilian needs, and it is obvious to everyone, even the previously-biased IAEA, that its nuclear intentions are military.
In any event, the strategy of imposing sanctions on Iran appears to be biting, as the EU tightens the screws on Iran with more sanctions.
With Britain’s decision to close its vandalized embassy in Tehran on Wednesday and expel all Iranian diplomats from London, Iran appears to have moved a major step closer to international pariah status. That isolation could complicate efforts by Western governments to halt what they have identified as Iran’s covert efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, according to diplomats and others who monitor Iranian affairs.
The problem for western governments and their attempts to influence events in Tehran is that the rise of Suleimani and the Quds Force, and the radical and reckless approach they represent, could be a symptom of Iran’s isolation and desperation, as well as a cause. Deepening Iran’s predicament may only make them stronger.
I leave you with Melanie Phillips searing criticism of William Hague’s reaction to the Iranian embassy crisis:
The British embassy in Tehran has been attacked. A mob threw petrol bombs, burned the Union flag and at least one vehicle and smashed a portrait of the Queen. Earlier reports said that at the compound where the diplomats live, six were held hostage for several hours – although that was downplayed by the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague.
In response to this attack Hague said that, notwithstanding the fact that he phoned the Iranian foreign minister to tell him how angry he was, and summoned the Iranian chargé d’affaires to the Foreign Office to tell him how angry he was,
‘clearly there will be other, further, and serious consequences’.
Golly. ‘Serious consequences’, eh?
One week ago, Britain finally got a little bit tougher when, galvanised from its torpor by the International Atomic Energy Agency which astounded everyone by actually telling the truth that Iran was working on producing a nuclear weapon, the UK government banned all British financial institutions from doing business with their Iranian counterparts, including the Central Bank of Iran. To which the Iranians have now responded with violence.
Now Hague is reacting as if that’s the last thing anyone expected. Yet on Sunday, the Iranian parliament overwhelmingly called for the expulsion of the British ambassador. And in that very debate an Iranian MP actually called for the British embassy to be stormed and diplomats taken hostage.
Are we really to understand that, having finally taken some action against Iran that might have an effect, the British government took no steps to protect its diplomats apart from warnings to avoid getting caught up in demonstrations? How can anyone not have had at the forefront of their mind the mammoth US Iranian embassy siege in 1979?
And anyway, what have we been doing maintaining diplomatic ties with Iran in the first place? Why on earth did we not cut them years ago?
Read the rest. It is classic Phillips. You’ll enjoy it if only for the caustic sarcasm.