The Role of the UK & the
205. The UK established full diplomatic relations
with Iran in the late 1990s. Professor Ehteshami told the Committee
that Britain's relationship with Iran is "long-standing and
Dr Ansari agreed, arguing that "there is no more complex
relationship than that which Iran has with the United Kingdom."
This, he argued, had an important historical dimension that is
"extremely sensitive" on all sides.
The historical dimension refers to events such as the British
influence in Iran during the period of Empire, Ayatollah Khomeini's
fatwa against Sir Salman Rushdie and, as Professor Ehteshami
noted, Iran's unwillingness to forget the role that the UK played
in toppling Prime Minister Mossadeq through a coup in the 1950s.
Dr Ansari told the Committee that:
The Iranians certainly value the relationship with
the United Kingdom. There is a strong element of respect for what
the British can do politically. That is historically founded.
There is obviously also a great deal of cynicism as to what Britain
can do politically. That means that it is a relationship that
has to be worked on [
There is clearly a huge amount that Britain can do,
and it can play a very positive role, but it needs to be done
very much with an eye on history.
206. We asked our witnesses whether Iran saw the
UK more as a trans-Atlantic player or as a member of the European
Union. Professor Ehteshami replied:
I would say that it sees Britain in both roles. It
sees Britain as the United States' closest global ally alongside
Israel, which is a problem for Tehran. At the same time, being
America's closest ally apart from Israel is an opportunity. One
gets the interesting sense that Iran sees Britain much less as
a European Union power than as a transatlantic actor. It is that
perceived capacity that I think causes Tehran to give weight to
Britain's voice internationally.
Dr Ansari believed that, given the variety of views
in Iran, different parts of the political spectrum viewed the
relationship with the UK in different ways:
The current Government in Iran, with Mr. Ahmadinejad,
has an ideological dislike of the United Kingdom'You
are the little Satan, but not a poor one.' That would be quite
difficult, but there is a range of opinions in Iran, particularly
in the previous Government and also among moderate conservatives
and others who would see some sort of relationship with Britain
as very positive.
207. The UK is engaged with Iran over a number of
issues, including Afghanistan, the various crises in the Middle
East and Iran's nuclear programme. We were told by Dr Ansari that
"Iranians see everything in a holistic way. I do not think
that they separate those issues." He warned that "the
tendency of western analysts to categorise and compartmentalise
things does not work" when addressing the relationship with
Iran. However, Professor Ehteshami believed that there were specific
issues that could be addressed without addressing the whole. For
example, he told the Committee that the City of London is "crucial
to Iran's international trade" and that it has the potential
to be an important partner for Iran's business community.
208. The US has no diplomatic relationship with Iran.
However, as noted earlier in this Report, it has begun to engage
with Tehran on the issue of Iraq in recent months. Simon McDonald
told the Committee that the US and the UK have differences in
their diplomatic approach to Iran:
We have not had press conferences. We are trying
to change Iranian behaviour. That is a central feature of our
dialogue with Tehran.
However, as noted elsewhere in this Report, he did
acknowledge that US policy was "evolving".
conclude that Iran is rapidly increasing its influence and power
across the Middle East. It has demonstrated that it is able to
generate or exploit crises in a range of countries, thus furthering
its own interests. We conclude that it is vital that the UK and
the international community engage constructively and coherently
with Iran on these difficult issues. We will consider the challenge
of engagement, in particular on Iran's nuclear programme, in greater
depth in our report on Global Security: Iran.