TEHRAN – A four-member British parliamentary delegation arrived in Tehran on Tuesday in the first such visit to Iran in five years and met with a number of Iranian officials.
Members of the all-party parliamentary group on Iran, led by former British foreign secretary Jack Straw, had been invited by their counterparts in the Iranian parliament and hope to arrange a reciprocal visit to London by Iranian MPs.
Straw held several meetings with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when he was the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator in the talks with Britain, France, and Germany between 2003 and 2005.
Iran agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment-related activities in 2004.
According to The Guardian, the visit comes a month after Britain’s newly appointed charge d’affaires, Ajay Sharma, traveled to Iran in a first diplomatic visit by a UK envoy since London withdrew all staff from Tehran after the storming of its embassy in 2011.
Although embassies still remain closed in their respective capitals, Britain and Iran have upgraded ties and taken significant steps toward reopening their missions since Rouhani took office. David Cameron and Rouhani also spoke on the phone in November in the first direct contact between a British prime minister and an Iranian president in a decade.
Straw’s office in London said on Monday that the group visiting Iran also consisted of Ben Wallace, the Conservative MP who is a co-chairman of the Britain-Iran parliamentary friendship group, as well as the former chancellor of the exchequer Lord Lamont, and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, The Guardian reported.
“The trip is being supported by the UK branch of the Inter-Parliamentary Union [IPU] and is being made on a reciprocal basis,” a statement from Straw’s office said. “It is hoped that whilst in Tehran the group will be able to make arrangements for a return delegation from the Majlis to visit the UK.”
They are scheduled to spend two days in Tehran and will make brief visits to Isfahan and Shiraz. They are due to return to the UK on Friday.
On Tuesday, The Guardian quoted a Foreign Office spokesperson as saying, “We are aware of Jack Straw MP’s forthcoming visit to Iran. This is not a UK government visit. Mr. Straw is visiting with members of the all-party parliamentary group on Iran.” Straw’s office said the Foreign Office had been “very helpful” in facilitating the visit.
Following Sharma’s visit to Iran, his counterpart, Mohammad-Hassan Habibollahzadeh, visited London.
On the Iranian visit to London, a Foreign Office spokesperson said, “The charge d’affaires, Mr. Ajay Sharma, was pleased to welcome Mr. Habibollahzadeh to the Foreign Office on 13 December. They had a productive meeting and continued the detailed discussions that were started in Tehran on improving UK-Iran bilateral relations on a step by step and reciprocal basis. The charge will return to Tehran in January where he will build on positive talks and deliver concrete results for the benefit of the UK and Iran.”
On Tuesday, the delegation held a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The British MPs also held a meeting with MP Abbas Ali Mansouri Arani, the Iranian chairman of the Iran-Britain parliamentary friendship group, in which Straw said he is hopeful that the interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the six major powers will be implemented soon.
The former British foreign minister also said that Iran has an inalienable right to peaceful nuclear energy.
Straw and the other members of the parliamentary delegation also held talks with Gholam-Hossein Shafe’i, the chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce.
In the meeting, Straw said Britain is seeking an immediate lifting of sanctions against Iran, but it should take place in a multilateral process and through dialogue.
The former foreign secretary also said the British delegation will make efforts to resolve the issue of visas and reopen the British Embassy in Tehran.
Lord Lamont, the former chancellor of the exchequer, also expressed hope that the nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers would bear fruit.
Lamont said the Iran-Britain Joint Chamber is ready to prepare the ground for travel between the two countries and facilitate the issuance of economic visas.
For his part, Shafe’i said that in the current situation, the Iranian Chamber of Commerce believes that “economic diplomacy” should come to the assistance of “political diplomacy”. He cited the issuance of visas for Iranian traders, the lifting of banking sanctions, and the elimination of restrictions in shipping transport as some of Iran’s conditions for a resumption of ties between the two countries.
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