We are fooling ourselves if we believe the West’s take that America and Britain have the upper hand with Iran and that Tehran needs to get in line.
The UK’s new foreign minister has dropped a bombshell over a debt which the UK government should pay back to Tehran, which would no doubt mean the freedom of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The only problem is that Liz Truss is an idiot.
A minor news event from the first week of December might give a hint as to whether the West is close to making a deal with Iran. Liz Truss, Britain’s new foreign minister, has said the £400 million that Britain owes Iran is a “legitimate debt” that the Government wants to pay.
The Foreign Secretary was asked about the amount at a London conference where she set out her foreign policy aims and although not a huge announcement, the mention of the debt is a sign that the UK is being pragmatic about where it stands with the new hardline regime in Iran and what western commentators are calling the last chance saloon in Vienna with the talks with Iran aimed at getting it to scale back its nuclear program and rejoin the so-called Iran deal – the JCPOA which it left the moment Donald Trump effectively retracted America’s commitment.
Iran wants the UK to pay back a debt which goes back to the 1970s when the Shah ordered military hardware from Britain and paid in advance for it. Truss, for the first time, acknowledged the debt saying that she was working to “resolve the issue” – relating to a cancelled order for 1,500 Chieftain tanks dating back to the 1970s – which has been linked to the continued detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other UK-Iranian dual nationals held in the country.
Iran is holding the dual national in a prison in Tehran and it is widely known that it wants the debt paid in exchange for the British teacher. There is an established format of keeping western hostages on trumped up spying charges to achieve an advantage when negotiating with the West. It is not widely reported but in 2015, U.S. President Obama handed over around 1.7 billion dollars in mixed currencies to the Iranian regime in exchange for a number of U.S. hostages being released – which all happened a few days after the ink dried on the JCPOA deal. The similarity of this and the UK case is striking as Obama estimated that America’s own 400m dollar debt to Iran – also for arms ordered and paid for in the 1970s – was worth close to 2bn dollars in today’s value.
Will Boris Johnson cough up the same huge amount adjusted to take into account inflation today? It’s likely he will have to, although the case of Nazanin is hugely embarrassing for him as she is partly in jail because of his own foot-in-mouth blundering which convinced the Iranians that the dual national was training Iranians in journalism.
But as the world’s attention turns once again to Iran as Tehran returns to Vienna to continue the talks is the shockingly outdated, arrogant and somewhat repugnant colonial attitude of both the U.S. and the UK towards Iran and the beleaguered nuclear deal itself. Truss exemplified this by adding at the Chatham House event that it was “Iran’s last chance” in Vienna adding that the UK is with the U.S. which has made indications that it is ready to take military action against the regime if it doesn’t take a more submissive role to the West’s demands.
This is itself is shocking. Put simply, it is Washington and London saying “look, if you’re not going to make any effort to agree to our terms, then we’re just going to bomb you”. It is akin to negotiating with gangsters with pistols stuffed down their trousers when you can’t pay back a loan. The West is always suggesting in its narrative about the Vienna talks that Iran is not serious or genuine. But the reality, when you analyse the threats of military action against Iran if it doesn’t tow the line, shows what a sham role Washington and London are playing. Do they really want a deal, or an excuse to bomb Iran? And perhaps more importantly, can we take their threats seriously when 100,000 rockets are pointed at Israeli cities by Hezbollah in Lebanon waiting for orders from Tehran. If Tehran is not taking Antony Blinken’s threats seriously, then why should anyone else? Iran holds all the cards in Vienna and is just doing what all Middle Eastern leaders do when negotiating: taking their time.
It’s the cultural gap which is really the issue. America is reacting like a spoilt child who can’t get its way and London is following with the mindset. We can talk to these people, but if they’re not willing to sign our deal, we need to hit them hard and show them who has the military might, seems to be the thinking. If only there was even some truth in the west having the power, we could try and understand why the talks have failed in Vienna, and Tehran has so much to gain by developing uranium and rebuilding its economy by investing in China and Russia as major players, while slowly edging back to what it raked in from oil sale pre-2015 Trump move.
The hypocrisy is stunning both with Truss and Blinken. Neither the U.S. nor UK can even come to terms with how we go into this crisis in the first place, convinced that playing the victim and pointing the finger at Iran will be an ace move in the end. Remarkably, the West continues to act as though Iran itself broke the terms of the JCPOA, rather than Trump pulling out of it – thus eliminating the main demand of enriching uranium. It’s hardly surprising after the Trump sanctions brought Iran’s economy to its knees that Tehran now has a tougher, hardball attitude towards western negotiations. It’s also hardly surprising that it manipulates the West’s weakness by ploughing ahead with enriching uranium and panicking Gulf Arab leaders who have recently been begging Joe Biden to go back to the JCPOA and not stick to keeping some of Trump’s sanctions. And it is certainly not surprising that Iran continues with its hostage taking as an effective way of hitting back and having the edge in negotiations when the West played such a dirty trick in the first place by pulling out of the Iran deal and desecrating the economy.
If Biden hasn’t got the guts to invade the Ukraine then it’s hard to see him picking a fight with Iran which would give U.S. forces in the region such a bloody nose that it would make the Afghanistan foray look like a badly organised picnic. Truss is not terribly bright and many questioned the wisdom of Boris Johnson to give her such an important dossier in a recent cabinet reshuffle. But warning Iran that time is up and that they’re about to be bombed for not signing a deal which gives them practically no benefits and no guarantees that the whole episode repeats itself at a later point? With such buffoons in control, it’s hardly surprising at all that the so-called Iran deal is never going to get done and what we really need is a new team of foreign policy wonks who can work without a script and see that a new approach entirely is needed if we want our hostages back. In the early 90s George Bush senior had to bluff and pretend that Ghadaffy was behind the Lockerbie bombing as he was so afraid of Iran not handing over the last few U.S. hostages in Beirut and Syria not supporting an invasion of Kuwait. We cannot make comparisons today as Iran and Hezbollah are so much stronger and have so much more power in the region that Biden should be terrified of Iran, if he is still compos mentis, that is. But we are all fooling ourselves if we believe the West’s take that America and Britain have the upper hand with Iran and that Tehran needs to get in line. Truss really does need to do some late night googling and learn about the history of the West’s entanglements with Iran to understand how this is going to play out.