Jack Straw is not an unknown or unfamiliar politician to the Iranians. When the current President of Iran Hassan Rouhani was the country’s lead nuclear negotiator with the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany) under President Mohammad Khatami, Jack Straw traveled to Iran several times as the British Foreign Secretary and conferred with him on a number of occasions.
Straw is a veteran politician who has experienced working at the different administrative and law-making levels in the British politics. From 1987 to 1992, he was the Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Science and for the next two years, he served as the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment. From May 1997 until June 2001, he was the British Home Secretary and from 2001 until 2006, he worked as the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs under Prime Minister Tony Blair. In this capacity, he represented Britain in the nuclear negotiations with Iran for three years. He was the Leader of the House of Commons for a short period between May 2006 and June 2007. Currently, he is a Member of Parliament for Blackburn, a position he has held since 1979.
He is one of the three individuals to have served in the British Cabinet continuously under the Labor government from 1997 to 2010. For three years, he was the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, the second highest-ranking of the Great Officers of State after Lord High Steward.
Upon his return from Tehran, Jack Straw admitted in an interview with the BBC Radio 4’s Today program that Britain and the United States have historically had a “very malign” influence on Iran. He cited the two powers’ role in the 1953 coup d’etat that toppled the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, their sponsorship of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the 8-year war against Iran and their policy of economic sanctions in the recent years.
Jack Straw accepted Iran Review’s request for an exclusive interview and responded to our questions on such crucial and important issues as the future of Iran-Britain relations, the possibility of the revitalization of the bilateral relations between the two countries, the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers, the role of President Hassan Rouhani in forging a comprehensive deal with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program and the West’s sanctions regime against Iran. What follows is the full text of the interview that was taped in early May.
Q: You’ve noted in your interviews and articles that the United States and Britain have historically had a malign influence over Iran and played a destructive role against the progress of the Iranian society as manifested in the U.S., UK-engineered 1953 coup, the installation of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, their support for Saddam Hussein during the 8-year war and the economic sanctions regime. Now, how is it possible for them to compensate the damages, make the ordinary Iranian citizens optimistic and hopeful about the future and lay the groundwork for a lasting reconciliation between Iran and the West?
A: My answer is as follows: I can’t change the history of the relationship and what has happened and had happened. What, however, I and many others in United Kingdom are able to do is to change the future relationship between the British people, the United Kingdom government, the Islamic Republic and ordinary Iranian citizens. And I think one way of doing that is by explaining better within the British society why there is such a suspicion, as you have mentioned. And that is because it is based on a historic experience. It’s not only a day back; it goes back to the World War I and then the events in 1953 coup that includes support for the Shah when he was obviously losing any popular backing, and then support for Iraqi regime during that terrible war. And I think Iranian people know the story about British-Iranian relations and that is the whole thing. One way to build understanding is to talk to people about the history. But there is another aspect to this understanding here, which is about the distinctive nature of Iranians and the Persians, and before that, the Iranian civilization, and the work that is being done culturally between our British Museum and your national museum which has been really important to build up understanding. So the future is bright, and I believe that there is going to be a satisfactory outcome in Vienna, during the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and then moving forward to develop straight culture and parliamentary links. So that’s the background of it. We just hope and pray there will be a satisfactory outcome in P5+1 talks.
Q: Following the election of Dr. Hassan Rouhani as the President of Iran, Iran and Britain expressed their willingness to renew the ties and reestablish diplomatic relations. What’s your prediction for the future of Iran-UK relations? Do you believe that the British Embassy will recommence its operation in Tehran and continue providing consular services to the Iranians and the Britons who are seeking those services?
A: I think that it is a wide determination to seek improved Iran-UK relations. And there is an all- party group of members in parliament who are pushing for an early full operation of our embassy in Tehran and for the offering of consular services to both Iranians and the Britons. And we will continue to make representations at the foreign office for its progress and the reopening of the embassy as quickly as possible.
Q: Unquestionably, one of the best ways to settle the differences between Iran and the West would be to solve the nuclear controversy. The first step has been taken, and the Geneva agreement has brought Iran and the six world powers closer together. What’s your suggestion for the future talks? How is it possible to normalize Iran’s nuclear dossier forever and bring to an end nearly one decade of hostility and confrontation?
A: Well, I think the basis for a permanent settlement was set out in the Geneva declaration of 24th of November, 2013 and it’s about a recognition of Iran’s right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to the use of civil nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and at the same time satisfying the international community that these facilities cannot be used to develop a nuclear weapon capability. They call Tehran to move within this framework; one of the issues is about Iran’s uranium enrichment that I think the language, which was an agreed language in that Geneva accord, drives the way through. Regardless of any kind of ideology, whether the NPT allows for uranium enrichment or not, they accepted it. That would guarantee that uranium enrichment can take place in countries that sign the NPT for peaceful purposes and that will provide a way through. And a crucial part of it is that there should be satisfactory international safeguards inspections.
Q: Right. Just a few days after the signing of the Joint Plan of Action, or the Geneva interim accord on Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. officials rushed to claim that all options are still on the table with regards to Iran, implying that the United States is still considering the military option against Iran. Do you consider these implicit war threats helpful and productive while Iran and the six world powers are negotiating for a final agreement?
A: Well, the United States government is responsible for its policy decisions and I’m not responsible. And you are aware of my opinion which is that I’m against any military action on Iran and against uttering the threat of military action. I’ve never thought that it was helpful and actually they will not get in the way of an agreement.
Q: Well, it’s obviously true that the U. S. government is responsible for its own statements. But, don’t you think that the U.S. government is under some pressures by certain interest groups, multinational corporations or other lobbies to make war threats against Iran and impede the way of diplomacy and negotiations?
A: I don’t think there’s any pressure from multinational interest groups for the military action against Iran. And if you think about it, few multinational companies will endorse military action in that part of the Asia that would damage international trade and the world economy so significantly. There is another fact that there are still lobbies in the American government which are hostile to Iran, and that goes back to 35 years, in the light of what happened in the U.S. Embassy compound and the siege that took place, and that is a matter of fact. It’s also the case that the United States will never allow the world lobbies to influence its military power under any circumstances.
Q: Iran’s differences with the West are not simply confined to the nuclear issue. The two sides have had very deep ideological disputes which have to do with their worldviews and mindset. So, do you think there are chances that Iran and the West, especially the United States and Britain, can come to a lasting accord that marks the removal of all misunderstandings and elimination of all grievances, including on such issues as human rights, Palestine, etc.?
A: I think that it is certainly possible to move from the position of hostility to the position of understanding. And in the west, all countries have relations with other countries and some of them share the same ideological objectives. You can take the example of China; forty years ago, there was the deepest possible hostility between China and the United States. Actually, the hostility has gone now, but there remain deep ideological differences between the United States and China and in turn, in the West about China’s human rights record and so on and now [there are some] anxiety about the military power. But that has not precluded the cooperation between the United States and other Western countries and China, and they are accommodating each other. And Iran is an independent nation state that makes decisions which go back to the 1979 revolution, concerning the nature of its society and that’s a matter for Iran; it’s not a matter for people outside.
Q: Britain has always maintained close ties with Israel, and this probably makes any criticism of Israel a difficulty for the British politicians. But let’s be frank. Israel possesses up to 300 nuclear warheads, as confirmed by the Federation of American Scientists, and there has never been any investigation into its atomic arsenal or any sanctions against it, simply under the pretext that Israel is not an NPT signatory. Do you find this justification that Israel can possess nuclear weapons because it’s not an NPT member rational and fair?
A: There is wide support for the State of Israel in the United Kingdom and for Israel’s right to exist within the borders agreed by the United Nations; and, to be frank, some of the language used by your previous president did not help. However, there is increasing concern and criticism here in Britain and across Europe about the policies which the Israeli government operates in respect to the Occupied Territories and its treatment of non-Jewish people within Israel. As far as Israel’s nuclear arsenal is concerned, they do have one, and I don’t think it should be absent from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and no matter the opposition, it should come within the NPT.
Q: As a high-ranking politician who has traveled to Iran several times, what’s your idea on the impact of the economic sanctions implemented by the United States and the European Union member states, including Britain, on the livelihoods of the ordinary citizens and the problems they’re facing in terms of their medical supplies, foodstuff and consumer goods? What’s your viewpoint on the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions?
A: The impression I received, and my point of view when I went to Iran is that the sanctions have had an adverse effect on the Iranian economy and on living standards of many ordinary Iranians. And obviously because of that, lifting the sanctions is an important objective of the Iranian government. And as you’ll be aware, medical supplies and foodstuff are supposed to be exempt from the sanctions regime. And I’ve been profoundly concerned that informal banking sanctions, particularly on the European banks by the United States, have prevented the foodstuff and medical supplies from getting into Iran which are supposed to be allowed by the sanctions regime. And I argued in the debates in the House of Commons that the United States’ trade with Iran in foodstuff and medical supplies has been increasing, but that of the United Kingdom has gone down sharply and I suggested in parliament that it’s partly a consequence but the way in practice the pressure on our banks has been greater than that on American-based banks. In my view, it is essential that the medical supplies and foodstuff are allowed. This is a different issue which you raised in your question. Some of them are essential, and some of them are not.
Q: And my final question; as a high-ranking British politician, what’s your prediction for the future of Iran-Britain relations under President Rouhani? Do you think that the external forces will allow the British government to get closer to Iran, approach Iran and maintain better and improved relations with Iran?
A: At present, I think it’s very difficult to predict the future. I know what I want, which is to see so significant improvement in the relations and a positive improvement. And I think there’s much to gain by helping Iran find its place in the world which is what it is. And I have no doubts that the Foreign Secretary wants to see an improvement in the relations.
This article was published by Iran Review and reprinted with permission.