An article published on the website of the Wall Street Journal on Monday highlights the role of three influential British lawmakers in the recent rapprochement between Iran and Britain.
Following are excerpts the article:
Prime Minister David Cameron’s government last month announced plans to reopen the British embassy in Tehran, less than three years after the outpost was shuttered in response to a November 2011 mob attack by … students.
(Despite their previous tough policies against Iran,) now British diplomats strike different notes. “There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should have an Embassy in Tehran if the circumstances allowed,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a June 17 statement.
So what has changed? The thaw is in part the result of the global charm offensive launched by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, since they took office last year.
The current rapprochement was also aided by a bipartisan trio of influential lawmakers. They include Jack Straw, who served as foreign secretary under Tony Blair; Ben Wallace, a Conservative MP who with Mr. Straw was co-chairman of the All-Parliamentary Group on Iran; and Lord Norman Lamont of Lerwick, a Tory peer and former chancellor in the John Major government who heads the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce.
Messrs. Straw, Wallace and Lamont have in recent months criticized the obstacles posed by American sanctions to UK banks that do business with Iran. “The impact of this unilateral, extraterritorial jurisdiction of the U.S. is especially discriminatory against UK-based financial institutions, because of their multinational nature,” Mr. Straw declared in a March Westminster debate.
I (the writer of the article) spoke separately with all three lawmakers on the phone last week. All three see engaging Tehran as good for British business and essential to stabilizing a Middle East tumbling toward chaos.
Asked if London should demand an apology in addition to financial restitution for the 2011 embassy assault, Mr. Wallace responded that “they’ve expressed regret” and cited the Western-backed 1953 coup against the nationalist Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh as a legitimate Iranian grievance.
Asked about the chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Britain,” which resound weekly at Friday prayers in Mr. Rouhani’s Iran, Mr. Straw said, “Do I approve such rhetoric? No, I don’t. It’s not a reason to not try and build a relationship. . . . Do I understand why they say it? Yes, because you have to understand Iran’s history. . . . They remember and will recite the overthrow of Mossadegh in ‘53 and other humiliations by the UK or the U.S. or both in great detail.”
“I think the mere appearance of President Rouhani obviously encouraged business confidence,” Lord Lamont told me. “The ministers whom we met were quite impressive, I have to say, all with American degrees…”
Tehran can “use its power for stability and peace” and “earn a place at the table” as a result, Mr. Wallace told me.
Along with Jeremy Corbyn, an anti-imperialist firebrand and Labour MP, the three traveled to the Islamic Republic in January. On their visit, the British lawmakers sat down with Mr. Zarif, Mr. Rouhani’s chief of staff, trade officials and various parliamentarians.
Mr. Straw has since painted an optimistic picture of what his delegation saw and heard in the Iranian capital. “Tehran looks and feels these days more like Madrid or Athens than it does, say, Mumbai or Cairo,” he wrote in a January op-ed.
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