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UK Choice Of Lose-Lose On Iran – OpEd

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By Arash Zahedi

Ties between Iran and the UK have recently gone so sour that the Iranian authorities were left with no choice but to downgrade ties with the country.

And when we say “choice” we mean more than one single way of dealing with something. Choices that are discussed in a “negotiated” manner and not the ones that please only one party and humiliate the other, leaving it desperate. But indeed, what choice remains for one when the other has already decided to take things to their extreme?

It has never been strange for an average Iranian to wake up in the morning and hear about a new set of sanctions imposed on the country by the US. It is the choice of the Washington foreign policy to talk to Iran through the language of sanctions and threats.

The big question these days is why should countries that are supposed to be “independent” in their decision makings follow in the footsteps of others?

Of course, let’s be reminded that the Iranian move to downgrade ties with London comes only after a series of unfriendly gestures by Britain in the recent past, the last one of which was the cutting of all financial ties with Iran.

Add to that failing to give jet fuel to Iranian civil aircraft (which seems to be another not very “independent” choice of some European states presently) that only makes civilians (not only from Iran but many nationalities) to take another longer, tiring, unwanted flight to travel to Iran, only for the aircraft to be re-fuelled in other European countries who have chosen not to be followers.

But arguably the most important instance of the British unfriendly behavior towards Iran is that it is the second largest host in the world for Iran’s opposition groups under the guise of supporting freedom and democracy.

But quite honestly, having seen the British police’s use of force specially with their, by now infamous, “Kettling” tactic and the violence in some recent unrest there, that were, for instance, on issues like education fees, one wonders how severely London would deal with groups that seek to topple the British government and even more harshly with the third parties that host these groups!

That might help explain why some Iranian Parliamentarians thought the recent move in “downgrading” ties with Britain is late and far from enough.

Some in Iran argue that the recent climate is getting more and more similar to the one that existed between Iran and the US after the victory of Iran’s Islamic revolution. When the Iranian university students entered the US embassy in Tehran and closed it down, after it was dubbed the “Den of spies.” At least the November 29, 2011 mood of the Iranian youth who had gathered in front of the British embassy in Tehran and even entered it at some point, in protest at London’s policies toward Tehran, was very much of a reminder of the old climate.

Historically speaking, Iranians had never really trusted the British government. Perhaps this has roots in Britain’s colonial era policies towards other nations. Iran’s Public culture, even before the Islamic revolution, was not the friendliest towards the British government. This mistrust could be well found in newspaper articles, books, jokes and even TV soap operas.

Many years after the Iranian revolution, Britain still seems to want to maintain its old image in the Iranian public eye through its one sided, Washington-perpetuated anti-Iran bids. It seems totally carefree or unwilling to say the least, to win a small bit of the trust of the Iranian nation, let alone their hearts. And to make matters worse, it threatens Tehran with even tougher stances, should Iran wish to downgrade its London ties.

The past has to give Britain “lessons,” as Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi puts, that no one can talk to the Iranians with the language of threat. A fact totally irrespective of how the country’s authority deals with an issue. That is the choice today of the Iranian nation, like any other given time in its history, like any other independent nation, not to be pressured and humiliated.

The US has for the past quarter of a century been hostile towards Iran. It has specially targeted Iran’s economy with its unilateral sanctions, having had no relation with the Iranian banking system during this period. But to what extent, an economic power that America is, has been able to hinder Iran’s progress, will tell a lot to Britain about the “usefulness” of its recent choices.

Observers also see Britain as ranking after Israel that has recently heightened its anti-Iran sabre rattling. Israel alleges that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons which, of course, international watchdogs do not support. But it fails to mention itself as having the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. If the British argue they host groups like the Iranian opposition on the grounds of supporting “freedom and democracy,” they will only ruin that image by walking alongside Israel that keeps 1.5 million civilians under siege in Gaza.

Iran has learned its lessons through its difficult times; lessons that have turned it from a regional spender into a power. As mentioned, not having financial ties with a Western government is not a novel phenomenon but a day to day practice of any Iranian.

What is in fact worrying is that the West is increasingly losing the trust of the East.

A look at the awakening of some Arab nations against their despots who were mostly supported by their Western allies to the last minute before they collapsed and the subsequent directions in which those nations have moved should tell tales about how the West is perceived in the Middle East region, if not in the World.

Losing hearts and minds, not to mention trust, has come easy for Britain due to its past colonial policies. It came easy in Iraq and Afghanistan after collaborating in deadly wars and countless civilian killings.

Today, it is even easier, without a doubt, to lose more elsewhere for its foreign policy practices and, worst of all, to lose at home where people do not know whether to suffer from seeing the body bags of their soldiers coming home dead as the result of the country’s foreign adventures nor the current very hard economic situation.

The choice is indeed the UK’s now.

Arash Zahedi is a Tehran based political analyst and broadcaster.

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