British MPs and peers have lobbying for Britain to create business links with Iran, according to the Wall Street Journal. Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Conservative MP Ben Wallace and former Chancellor Lord (Norman) Lamont have criticised U.S. sanctions against the nation and have also personally travelled to Iran to meet government officials.
In January, the three men, accompanied by left-wing MP Jeremy Corbin, travelled to Tehran to meet President Rouhani’s chief of staff, trade officials and parliamentarians. They did not meet any dissidents and civil rights activists, although Ben Wallace said he raised the issue of human rights with officials.
The Wall Street Journal reports that it spoke to all three men to ask their views on Iran. Both Mr Straw and Mr Wallace were keen to cite the 1953 Western-backed overthrow of prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh when explaining the 2011 attack on the British embassy in Tehran by a mob of pro-regime students.
Asked if London should demand an apology for the 2011 embassy attack, Mr Wallace said that “they’ve expressed regret”, before referring to the 1953 coup as a legitimate Iranian grievance.
When asked about the regular chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Britain” at Friday prayers in Iran, Mr Straw responded: “Do I approve such rhetoric? No, I don’t. It’s not a reason to not try and build a relationship. . . . Do I understand why they say it? Yes, because you have to understand Iran’s history. . . . They remember and will recite the overthrow of Mossadegh in ’53 and other humiliations by the UK or the U.S. or both in great detail.”
Straw was also critics of U.S sanctions against UK banks that do business with Iran: “The impact of this unilateral, extraterritorial jurisdiction of the U.S. is especially discriminatory against U.K.-based financial institutions, because of their multinational nature.”
Keen to play up to the idea that current Iranian president Rouhani is a ‘moderate’, Lord Lamont said: “I think the mere appearance of President Rouhani obviously encouraged business confidence. The ministers whom we met were quite impressive, I have to say, all with American degrees. . . . The question is: Do these ministers really represent the regime? And that’s where it gets difficult. We all know that the president of Iran has limited power. But I believe he’s been given the go-ahead to probe with these negotiations.”
Mr Wallace added that Tehran can use its power for “stability and peace” and thus “earn a place at the table”. When asked if they had earned a place at the table so far, he responded: “Well, has America, after the invasion of Iraq, earned the right to play a role in the Middle East–or Britain?”
After his visit to Tehran in January, Mr Straw even went so far as to declare that it is like modern Western capitals: Tehran looks and feels these days more like Madrid or Athens than it does, say, Mumbai or Cairo.”
Asked whether he still holds this view, he responded: “I know that Tehran is not Madrid. My point was that’s what the city felt like from the narrow perspective of the journeys that I was making. That was all. It feels more like those cities, Athens too, it felt to my entirely subjective judgment, than, I think, Cairo or Mumbai–what it felt like looking out from the car.”