The Political Barriers of Normalization of Ties between Iran and Britain
By Maryam Shariat
The importance of Iran and Britain relations can be traced into the importance of the role each of the countries play in international arenas and the fields each have high potential in.
Iran a rich and powerful country in the Middle east can be a good strategic partner for Britain in the field of trade, supply of oil and gas, agriculture, etc; while, Britain ,a great world power, can be a good supporter of Iran to achieve its rights and gain legal interests in global arenas including nuclear rights.
However, there seems to be several barriers on the way of normalization of bilateral ties between the two countries.
1. The Bitter Historical Background of the Ties between Iran and Britain
Bitter upheavals in Iran and Britain relations are as follows (Timeline: Iran and UK relations, 2014):
In 1940, Iran said it would remain neutral in World War II but Reza Shah, the first Pahlavi king, had also boosted trade and links with Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Fearful of the outcome, especially after German incursion into the Soviet Union in 1941, Britain and Russia jointly occupied Iran and force Reza Shah to relinquish power. He later dies in exile.
In 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh tried to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, but Britain imposed an embargo and appealed to the US for help.
In 1953, Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh was ousted in a coup sponsored by US and British intelligence agencies. He served a three year jail sentence and spent the remainder of his life under house arrest until his death in 1967.
In 1979, Britain closed its embassy in Tehran, following the Islamic revolution; but reopened it in 1988.
In 1989, Iran declared a fatwa on Rushdie. Iran, Britain Bilateral diplomatic ties were broken, and Rushdie went into hiding.
In 1992, An Iranian diplomat was expelled in retaliation for Tehran's expulsion of a UK diplomat. Later, three Iranians were expelled from London (two embassy officials and a student) after an alleged plot to kill Rushdie.
In 2002, Iran rejects David Reddaway as the UK's ambassador to Tehran, calling him a spy.
In 2003, the IAEA reported for the first time on Iran's 18-year nuclear program. Iran insisted it is for civilian purposes only but some parts of the international community, particularly the US and UK, believe that Iran is intent on building a nuclear weapon.
In May 2004, Demonstrations took place outside the UK embassy in Tehran, as people criticize the UK and US military for fighting near the holy cities of Iraq.
In June 2004, The UK, Germany and France drafted a resolution for the IAEA "criticizing Iran's lack of co-operation with inspections of its nuclear program. Later in the month, eight British sailors are held for three days in Iran after their ship reportedly strays into Iranian waters near the border with Iraq.
In 2007, "Iran detained 15 British navy personnel who were patrolling the Arvandroud waterway separating Iran and Iraq. Tehran said that the boat entered Iranian waters. A diplomatic row ensued and they were released on 4 April.
In 2008, in a speech to the Israeli parliament, Gordon Brown said: "Iran has a clear choice to make: suspend its nuclear program and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response not of one nation but of many nations."
In January 2009, The British Council, which has been operating intermittently in Iran since 1961, said it suspended operations in Tehran, claiming Iranian officials "pressurized" their staff.
In June 2009, Mass protests were held after the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The opposition said the election should be investigated.
Iran's Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said "arrogant powers" in the US and European countries tried to encourage protests. He said that the "most evil of those powers was Britain". The British media was also criticized.
In September 2009, Iran admitted it was building a uranium enrichment plant near Qom, but insisted it was for peaceful purposes. British intelligence services played a key role in the unveiling of the site.
In 2010, according to Iran’s English language television station Press TV, four people said by Iran to be terrorists with links to Britain were arrested.
The British Foreign Office denied the men had ties to Britain and said this was "another in a long line of slurs against the United Kingdom from the government of Iran".
On November 21, 2011, British Chancellor George Osborne announced financial sanctions against Iran as a result of a report by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, into its nuclear program. Britain ceased all ties with Iranian banks.
On November 27, 2011, the Iranian parliament voted to expel the British ambassador in Tehran, Dominick Chilcott. Economic and trade links with the UK were weakened.
On November 29, 2011, protesters stormed the UK embassy in Tehran, throwing stones, petrol bombs, and burning documents. They attempted to occupy it before being dispersed by riot police. The UK Foreign Office said it was "outraged" by the incident.
On November 30, 2011, Britain demanded the immediate closure of the Iranian embassy in London, saying also that all Iranian diplomats had to leave the country within 48 hours. Foreign Secretary William Hague also revealed that all UK diplomatic employees had already left Iran.
From July 2012 until October 2013, British interests in Iran maintained by the Swedish embassy in Tehran while Iranian interests in the United Kingdom were maintained by the Omani embassy in London.
On July 2013, it was announced that the UK would consider to open better relations with Iran "step-by-step" following the election of President Hassan Rouhani.
On October 8, 2013, Britain and Iran announced that they would each appoint a chargé d'affaires to work toward resuming full diplomatic relations.
On February 20, 2014, the Iranian Embassy in London was restored and the two countries agreed to restart diplomatic relations.
2. The Internal Pressures in Iran and Britain Constraining Ties
According to Saeedabadi (1999), Iranian-British relations after 1979 were characterized by tensions, instability and political upheaval. The Iraq- Iran war was fundamental in forming the relations between UK and Iran. The dominance of 'idealist' in Iran was a major influencing factor.
The main argument is that Iranians and their leaders interpreted UK policy as conspiratorial. This idea was rooted in the conniving attitude of UK towards Iran over history. In addition, London’s uncompromising support for the shah to the very end of his regime had a profound effect on the post-revolutionary relations between UK and Iran. After the revolution, Iranians thought that UK is trying to suit the position of US and this exacerbated relations between Iran and UK.
Before and after the revolution Ayatollah Khomeini stated that shah's regime is not legitimate and because of UK-US affairs in 1953 coup he was very critical of Britain as a colonial power.
There is a belief in Iran that UK has hampered Iran’s development.
Some British believe that they were mini-Satan in the eyes of Iranians and because of history, they were not able to have a normal relationship with Iran (Seedabadi, 1999).
In Britain, most British policy-makers have serious concerns over Iran’s foreign policy and human rights record, whilst the detail of a comprehensive nuclear settlement remains to be agreed, and some of Iran’s neighbors remain uneasy about any deal (UK Parliament, 2013). The concerns create internal obstacle on way of Britain to normalize relations with Iran.
3. The External Pressures in Britain Constraining Ties with Iran
One of the important external pressures on Britain restraining ties with Iran is the United States.
After the world war two, the power of the war-ravaged Britain diminished. At the time, the US became the dominant power in the world. During the second world war, British adopted close partnership with the US and tried to increase US involvement in Iranian affairs. Britain realized that without the US it could not retain its influence and presence in Iran. (Saeedabadi, 1999)
As a junior power to the US, Britain has been trying to keep close relations with the US and satisfy its interests including those in Iran. For example, according to Saeedabadi, 1999, at the beginning of Islamic Revolution of Iran the siege of US embassy in Tehran was a formidable challenge to US foreign policy. Britain a close ally of the US uttered strong words in support of Washington.
Senior British politicians, including former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and former Chancellor Lord Lamont have recently said the US is “bullying” UK banks and is hampering legal exports from Britain to Iran(US bullying UK on Iran: British politicians, 2014).
Another important external factor seeking to constrain Iran-Britain ties is Israel. For an example, after the election of Hassan Rouhani as the president of Iran on June 14, 2013, and despite his trend to boost relations with the West including Britain, Israel Prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in an exclusive interview with the Sky News on October 10, 2013 said the West ‘could be suckered by MrRouhani's moves’.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that diplomatic relations should not be reestablished unless Iran entirely dismantles its "nuclear weapons program" and stops calling for the "annihilation of the state of Israel" (Israel Warning to UK on Relations with Iran, 2013)
On the whole, it seems the barriers on way of Iran and Britain are somehow fundamental which seemingly cannot be fully removed in near future. The ideology of Iranians towards Britain as a cunning country due to their bitter past experiences, and the country’s nuclear activity which it adheres to firmly as its undeniable right are the most basic issues Iran cannot compromise on.
Also, Britain’s concern over Iran’s nuclear activity and the pressures of its most important allies namely the US and Israel on the country to limit ties with Iran hinders it to completely normalize relations with Iran.
This is while, Britain needs Iran as a strategic country in the region and as a rich country regarding its natural resources. Iran also needs Britain as a member of group 5+1 to help it reach its peaceful purposes in nuclear technology. So it seems logical for both Britain and Iran to try to compromise with and approach each other as much as possible.
Iran nuclear: Israel PM warns against easing pressure. (2013, Octorber 14). Retrieved May 20, 2014, from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24523835
Foreign Affairs Committee publishes terms of reference for inquiry into UK policy towards Iran . (2013, December 2). Retrieved 5 4, 2014, from www.parliament.uk: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/foreign-affairs-committee/news/iran-tor/
Israel Warning to UK on Relations with Iran. (2013, October 10). Retrieved May 15, 2014, from Sky News: http://news.sky.com/story/1152793/israels-warning-to-uk-on-relations-with-iran
Noorbaksh, M. (n.d.). Mehdi Bazargan's Biography . Retrieved June 4, 2014, from http://www.bazargan.info/la_english/english.htm
Seedabadi, M. (1999).Histroy of Iran UK Relations. Canberra, Australia.
Timeline: Iran and UK relations. (2014, January 30). Retrieved May 17, 2014, from BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-15949285
US bullying UK on Iran: British politicians. (2014, March 27). Retrieved May 15, 2014, from PRESS TV: