The day after British Foreign Secretary Phil Hammond concluded an historic state visit to Iran by proclaiming the revolutionary Islamic Republic a “perfectly normal” country— Iran’s Parliamentary secretary took to state controlled airwaves to reiterate that Israel’s annihilation remains his country’s paramount strategic objective – and that no changes in relationships with Western powers could alter that goal.
Speaking on Iranian state television Parliamentary secretary Hussein Sheikholeslam said the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran did not presage any change in Iran’s foreign policy goals or principles. “Our positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all; Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan.”
In addition to holding the top administrative position for the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Sheikholeslam is a highly influential figure within Iran’s foreign policy establishment. Coming the very day after the first bilateral meeting between a British Foreign Secretary and an Iranian President in 14 years, his appearance on tightly controlled state television was seen by many outside Iran as an attempt to remind Iranians and the world that Hammond’s praise of Iranian ‘normalcy’ came in the context of Iran being a normal country that seeks the annihilation of another country; Israel.
The senior Iranian figure wasn’t the only one to take issue with what British top diplomat’s observed on his two day visit. Foreign Minister Hammond sparked much controversy back home and in Israel with his claims that Iranian President Mohammed Rouhani demonstrated to him a willingness to take a “more nuanced” approach to the existence of the Jewish state, and that “Iran’s rhetoric need not be taken so seriously. newspaper.” Speaking to the Guardian, Hammond said, “We’ve got to distinguish the internal political consumption rhetoric from the reality of the way they conduct their foreign policy.”
With “Death to Britain” graffiti clearly visible on the walls of the newly reopened British embassy, FM Hammond averred that Iran had softened its deep hostility toward Britain. “I also detect a change in the language and the rhetoric around the UK,” he said. He said he was reassured that Iran’s leaders seemed to now regard Britain as “part of Europe” and thus worthy of engagement.
Critics at home said Hammond’s effusive praise for what he called the vibrancy of life in the strictly authoritarian Islamic state made him sound more like a spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Tourism than the top diplomat of permanent member state of the UN Security Council. His own impressions of the country had run counter to the popular stereotypes of Iran.
“Many people in Britain and the West, have an image of Iran as a desperately theocratic, deeply religious society motivated by ideology,” Mr Hammond was quoted as having said in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
”What I’ve seen is a perfectly normal, bustling, dynamic, entrepreneurial, thrusting, middle income developing world city, which has clearly enormous potential. You only need to look at it to see the enormous potential.”
The British embassy, ransacked and looted by Iranian mobs who overran and defaced the mission in 2011, announced they have hired a restoration specialist to sand blast away all the anti-British graffiti found throughout the building and apply historically appropriate paints for the historic 19th-century structure.