It was reported yesterday that in a telephone conversation with the Iranian foreign minister, William Hague said that he is open to improving ties between his country and the United Kingdom. Relations were severed nearly two years ago when mobs attacked the British embassy in Tehran. Frankly, it’s about time.
Both David Cameron and the foreign secretary imagine themselves to be “grand strategists,” yet they have shown little strategic nous as far as Tehran is concerned. We want to withdraw peacefully from Afghanistan, end the conflict in Syria, and stop the Iranians from developing a nuclear capability. Achieving all of these goals depends on having a better relationship with Iran.
If we want the Tehran regime to stop its nuclear program, then we need to convince them that the West is not a threat to them. Toppling Bashar al-Assad in Syria would isolate them in the region, as some predict, but isolation is likely to make them more committed to possessing a nuclear capability. We need to negotiate a settlement between the Syrian rebels and the Assad regime and we need Iran to help us.
We also need its help to withdraw peacefully from Afghanistan. As I wrote in these pages last year, there is no rational reason why the Iranians would want either continuing instability in the country or a Taliban victory yet they view things through the prism of Western-Iranian enmity. If the West is tied down in Afghanistan, then it cannot attack them. By persuading them to “help, not hinder the allies in ending the war [there], it may be easier to negotiate a solution to their nuclear program, as there will be an element of trust between the parties.”
In politics, working relationships are always fluid; if Britain wants to achieve its numerous goals in the Middle East and Central Asia, then Mr Cameron and Mr Hague must strike up a working relationship with Iran.
This story first appeared at Egremont, the official blog of the Tory Reform Group, August 1, 2013.