Iran’s President Rouhani – Old Spice in New Bottle

I have long argued that the US should open diplomatc links with Teheran and am glad that President Obama has reached out to the new Iranian president Rouhani at the UN General Assembly. But when I read a gushing Daily Telegraph comment by Peter Oborne who writes very oddly if effectively on matters outside the Westminster world he has patrolled for 25 years I was moved to write this letter. Oborne lambasted William Hague who is hardly a favourite of mine given his vulgar anti-Europeanism but I recalled the last time a Foreign Secretary sought to make overtures to Teheran and how it did not end well. Here is my note below.

William Hague may be right to err on the side of caution in dealing with Iran (Peter Oborne comment 26 Sept). A decade ago the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, invested massively in Iran. Together with the French and German foreign ministers he visited Teheran, was polite about Islam, accepted under protest Iran’s rejection as ambassador of one of Britain’s best diplomats on the wholly false grounds that the nominee was Jewish, and proffered Britain’s hand as a partner. Straw’s well-intended outreach ended in Iran stepping up its support for its clients in Lebanon, Syria and above all Iraq where the Iran-sponsored Shiite militia plunged Iraq into civil war after Saddam was overthrown.
This was followed by the arrival of a president of Iran who called for Israel to be taken off the map of the world and sponsored Holocuast denial conferences in Teheran. All the while Iran was powering ahead with its bid to obtain nuclear weapons while undertaking the most gruesome repression of any Iranians who dared to cry freedom.
Perhaps Iran’s new President Rouhani is different though he has yet to explain his role in the planning and organisation of the Iran-sponosred attack in 1994 on a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in which 85 Jews were killed – the worst anti-semitic atrocity since the 1940s. As an FCO minister I urged American colleagues to recognise Iran and used the Nixon in China analogy though Henry Kissinger told me that in China doors were open for the US to walk through and that is not the case in Iran where the US is still described and denounced in lurid terms.
Diplomacy is much sneered at by commentators but jaw-jaw even if you have to hold your nose is better than the alternative. But on Iran the current Foreign Secretary is write to sup with a long spoon until such time Iran makes clear it wants partnership with the many friends the people of Iran have in the democracies of the world.

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