7 January 2002
Anglo-iran diplomacy falters
Poor President Mohammed Khatami,
whenever he steps forward on the road of improving relations with the rest
of the world, he discovers that the elastic attached to his cloak and held
by the hardline Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is painfully short as, once again,
his back is slammed against the wall.
''Many Iranian analysts, including former and serving diplomats, see him as the best man for the job''
An article published on 7
January in the Farsi-language daily newspaper Jomhuri Islami, the mouth-piece
of the anti-Khatami hardline Islamic clergy, followed by several editorials
in Kyhan and other anti-Khatami publications, threatened to undo Britain’s
three years efforts to improve relations with Iran.
''Reddaway returned to Iran as a charge d’affairs''
Forty-eight year old Reddaway
is a highflyer career diplomat who has spent some 25 years in the diplomatic
service in Iran, Argentina, India and Europe.
''The Iranians could try to use Mr Reddaway's appointment as a way of winning concessions on other issues''
``The same Islamic authorities had no objection to Mr Reddaway serving as charge d'affaires in Teheran from 1990 to 1993,'' pointed out an Iranian diplomat who prefered to remain anonymous, `` but now they are trying to embarrass President Khatami and freeze his attempts to improve relations with Britain and the west in general.``
Some former British diplomats who served in Iran , and now act as advisers to the Foreign Office speculated that the Iranians were simply trying to use Mr Reddaway appointment as a way of winning concessions on other issues. "The Iranians are always playing these games," one source said. "The important thing is to stand firm and not give in."
The reformist camp, who support President Khatami, is suspicious of the hardliners motives, saying that Mr Reddaway's extensive knowledge of Iran, could be the real reason that Teheran wants to keep him out.
Dr Nouri-Zadeh, who subscribes to this theory, adds that Mr Reddaway appointment and his expected close cooperation with the reformists, would have strengthened the president position, especially if, as the radicals suspect, Mrs. Reddaway became active in the fields of humanrights and womens rights.
Mr Reddaway is married to an educated and articulate Iranian woman, who was born to an American mother and an Iranian upper class father who comes from one of Iran's influential families. His mother-in-law, still lives in Iran and breeds and exports racehorses, thereby earning the Islamic Republic good income in hard-currency. His brother, who also speaks Farsi, is a photographer working with a news agency in Teheran. The thought that such qualifications and connections might make Mr Reddaway an ambassador too knowledgeable of Iran for comfort, is what worries the hardliners.
The right wing, lead by Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, see most world events, including the appointment of a new British ambassador, through a lense of conspiracy.
Tension btweent Britain and Iran is nothing new
Only last December Ayatollah Khamenei accused the West of conspiring to return the monarchy to Iran. The chrages were made following publication of several interviews with the late Shah's son, who had just published a new book. They consider Mr Reddaway's appointment as another step towards strengthening the hands of the royalists in Iran, since he served in the embassy during the late Shah's rule.
The row was given
prominent coverage in Israel, which regards the Islamic Republic as a sworn
Israeli press reports suggest that London will be forced re-examine its relationship with Teheran and could downgrade ties if the Islamic government refuses to acknowledge Mr Reddaway.
Israel has made no secret of its disapproval of Britain's overtures to a nation that it sees as an arch enemy, and will be watching the Foreign Office's handling of the affair closely. It is also no secret that Israeli government lead by hardliner Ariel Sharon, is actively leaking interesting bits of information about the London Teheran diplomatic dispute to the Israeli press at a time when Mr Sharon, is trying to attract the world's attention to its seizure of an arms shipment, allegedly from Iran, which it claims was ordered by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
The publication of the news of the row came out on the day the Israelis put the Palestinian captain before journalists admitting that a senior Palestinian official in Athens instructed him to sail on his mission.
The Israeli dimension, makes the British Foreign Office even more adamant to stand firm on Mr Reddaway appointment and not to fulfill the Israeli speculations.
Tension between Britain and Iran is nothing new as the ties between the two nations have been historically tense. Since finding oil in Iran nearly 100 years ago and exploiting it for decades, Britain bequeathed a legacy of mistrust, which culminated in British intelligence and CIA helping the late Shah reclaiming his throne in 1953, following nationalist's Prime Minister Mohammed Musadaq nationalisation of the oil companies. Both nationalists and Islamists still dust off this affair every time they want to inflame a popular anti-western sentiment. However, relations have improved markedly since President Khatami's moderate Government officially distanced itself three years ago from the late Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie.
President Khatami had hoped to improve relations with the United States
The September 11 attacks on America, presented a new opportunity to move closer together. A fortnight after the terror attacks in America, Jack Straw became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Teheran since the Islamic revolution in 1979. He made a second visit in November, when negotiations were being held over the new interim government to replace the ousted Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
By improving relations
with Britain, and gaining Prime Minister's Tony Blair's trust and cooperation,
President Khatami had hoped to improve relations with the United States,
which still places Iran on its list of states supporting terrorism. By
aggravating the diplomatic row with Britain, the hardliners
will add many long miles to President Khatami's journey of improving his
nation's relations with Washington.
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