UK wants “partnership” not “conflict” with Iran, says minister
The British government is insistent that it wants to improve relations with Iran but remains adamant in continuing with its sticks-and-carrots approach in the dispute provoked over the country’s civilian nuclear programme.
“First I would like to make very clear we haven’t got any hostility towards Iran. Iran is a country with a long and distinguished history, a magnificent culture,” Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said.
“It is a country we want a strong and cooperative relationship with. We very much want a modern relationship as well one based on partnership not on conflict,” Rammell said.
But setting out Britain’s position in an interview with IRNA, he said that this could not be achieved at the moment because of “serious and legitimate concerns.”
These included not only the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme but accusations of alleged support for terrorism and the promotion of instability in the region.
The minister, who was recently appointed for the Middle East, cited such claims that Iran was supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, despite it warning the West about its dangers many years before its overthrow in 2001.
He denied that Britain itself was supporting terrorism by recently deproscribing the Mojahedin Khalq Organisation (MKO), which has been responsible for killing tens of thousands of Iranians, insisting it was a court decision opposed by his government.
When challenged, Rammell was unable to name any other terrorist group that was not outlawed by Britain, but said he wanted to make clear that his government still recognized the MKO’s “long-track record” of involvement in terrorism in Iran and the region.
On Thursday, former UK ambassador to Tehran Sir Richard Dalton suggested a new approach was needed to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme after five years of deadlock.
A new report on Iran: Breaking the Nuclear Deadlock, edited by Dalton, recommended that Washington engages with Iran and that US president-elect Barack Obama appoints a special envoy as part of a plan to normalize relations with Tehran.
But Rammell remained adamant that Britain was sticking with its current strategy ahead of Obama coming to power, saying the 5 plus 1 had made a “very substantial offer” of incentives to Iran, which had the choice to take it or face the prospect of “tougher” sanctions.
“We don’t want be in position of being at loggerheads with Iran,” the minister told IRNA.
“We want progressive and forward-looking relations.”
But at the root of the deadlock preventing negotiations remains the demand made on Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium, which it is entitled to do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Recent calls to drop the precondition to talks have been made among others by former American National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and for EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, but this was rejected by the British Foreign Office Minister.
He argued that the package offer was “very reasonable” and that he remained hopeful Iran would accept it.
At the same time, he threatened that pressure would be stepped up for Iran to “make the right choice.”
But when challenged, Rammell refused to say that the real intentions of the US and UK to deny Iran its right to enrich uranium by wanting to make the suspension permanent.
“We want Iran to suspend and engage,” he said without mentioning any time limit. If Iran does, it can meet its concerns for access to civilian nuclear power through the offer made, he suggested.