What the new UK ambassador to Iran is looking for?

August 13, 2021 - 21:32

TEHRAN — In our previous report titled “The curious case of new UK ambassador to Iran,” we said that “The UK, with the appointment of Shercliff, has a tough time mending ties with Iran.” 3 days after the arrival of Simon Shercliff to Tehran, it is now crystal clear to everyone that the Iran-UK relationship will be one of a kind.

It all began on Wednesday, when the official Twitter account of the Russian Federation embassy in Tehran tweeted a photo of Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan's meeting with the new UK ambassador to Iran, in the historical stairs of the Russian embassy, where the 1943 Tehran conference was held.

The tweet said, “Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan's meeting with the new head of the British diplomatic mission in Iran Simon Shercliff on the historical stair, where the 1943 Tehran conference was held.”

The picture sparked a big controversy in social media among Iranian officials and the people. 

On Wednesday night, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “I saw an extremely inappropriate picture today. Need I remind all that Aug. 2021 is neither Aug. 1941 nor Dec. 1943. The Iranian people have shown—including during the JCPOA talks—that their destiny can NEVER be subject to decisions in foreign embassies or by foreign powers.” 

In a tweet on Wednesday afternoon, Iranian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf demanded an apology from the ambassadors. 

“The inappropriate action of the ambassadors of Russia and the United Kingdom should be pursued immediately by the Foreign Ministry.

Both ambassadors must immediately formally apologize for the action taken, otherwise a decisive diplomatic response will be necessary,” Qalibaf tweeted. 

Hossein Amir Abdollahian, foreign minister-designate also reacted to the controversial picture, tweeting on Thursday, “The undiplomatic action of the two foreign ambassadors in Tehran has stifled public opinion in the Islamic Republic of Iran and shows the disregard for the diplomatic etiquette and national pride of the zealous people of Iran. Quick correction of this error is necessary.”

The public opinion demanded official apologies from both embassies, asking for retractions. Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the both ambassadors to explain about the inappropriate picture. 

According to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian ambassador highlighted Tehran-Moscow strategic relations as well as deep-rooted and cordial ties between the two sides, expressing regret that the photo had caused misunderstanding and dismayed the people of Iran.

Iranian foreign minister's assistant and the director general of the Foreign Ministry Eurasia Department highlighted the friendly relations between the two countries, and recalled that the posting of such a picture, even if with the same intention that the Russian ambassador had explained, was “unacceptable”, according to the foreign ministry’s website. 

As for the British envoy, Shercliff expressed regret over the misunderstanding created by the photo, and said he had high respect for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the great people of Iran and its history. He further noted that there was no ill intention behind the photo and the two ambassadors only intended it to be a reminder of the alliance between Russia and Britain against the Nazi Germany during the World War II.

The British ambassador finally expressed hope that he will be able to help develop Tehran-London relations based on promotion of respect and mutual trust during his mission in Tehran.

It is important to remember that all these happened only three days after the arrival of Shercliff to Iran as ambassador. As a diplomat with noteworthy journalistic background, he certainly made a first impression in the media. Shercliff was the head of the Iran-Iraq media office at British Foreign Office from 2004 to 2005. 

He was then later promoted to senior media officer in 2005, and then he was chosen to lead the media office of the foreign secretary in 2006. Shercliff knows media and the “war of narratives” cover to cover.

What Shercliff is trying to do is to start a manipulation of the media. It looked as if the photo-op was staged by the Russians. On the contrary, it is not at all impossible that Shercliff was the one staging the mise-en-scene. The UK is well aware that nowadays, it is the narratives that define foreign policies. That is why they have chosen someone with a prominent journalistic background to lead the diplomatic office in Tehran. The warfare has entirely changed.

If we take a hard look at where Shercliff has served in the past, we realize that important hotspots were the areas of interest for him. Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and Washington. These hotspots are of particular importance for the United Kingdom. A re-assignment to Tehran shows that the UK has changed its approach towards the new president and a new Iran. 

Rob Macaire, the previous ambassador, took part in a protest in Tehran. Shercliff, on the other hand, knows better than Macaire. He is opting for the “war of words.” The narrative Shercliff chose to take, was that he has done nothing wrong. The photo was taken by the Russian embassy, and posted by them. Therefore, he hasn’t done nothing undiplomatic. What is important to remember is that Shercliff knows media better than Dzhagaryan. 

Since the UK is opting for the war of narratives, Iranian media must be well-prepared. War of media was one of the main points of the Leader’s speech when he endorsed President Raisi on August 3. 

“Today, the enemy is more active in the soft war – the media war – than in the security and economic war. They spend vast amounts and hatch many plots in order to dominate public opinion in our country. They hire many talents so that they could dominate and control public opinion in countries – especially, our country which is the target of superpowers – by waging psychological warfare and launching propaganda moves.

When public opinion in a country is possessed by foreigners, then the affairs of that country will be shaped according to their whims. Promotional work is important and we have shortcomings in this area. Excluding the ignorant people who use domestic media in favor of the enemy - I do not want to discuss such people - even those who are well-intentioned, their work falls short in this regard. Therefore, we should act more efficiently and more intelligently in the domain of promotion and media,” Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on August 3, when endorsing Ebrahim Raisi as president. 

What the Iranian people demand of the British ambassador, is to formally and publicly apologize from the Iranians. As for the media, and the Russian ambassador, they should be wary of the dangers of this clever diplomat. Shercliff will try to manipulate and divide the media, as he is doing now. This was his first, and will certainly not be his last move. Iranian media should be united against the false narratives of the UK embassy in Iran. 

The third warning is issued to the Russian ambassador, who has fallen victim to the trap designed by the UK envoy to Tehran. He must know the British tricks better than that. It is time for the Russian ambassador to relocate the statue of Alexander Griboyedov, as a symbol of good faith.
 

SA/PA

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