At a recent meeting of the British Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran, a strange tone dominated proceedings. Not only was the atmosphere unmistakably leaning toward an attitude favorable to Iran, but there were open expressions of anti-American and anti-Israel views from the parliamentarians. Some of the members seemed so pro-Iranian that they even made sure to take a good swipe at Saudi Arabia, Iran’s primary rival in the Islamic world. Nor were these expressions coming from fringe members of the House, but from Conservative and Labour politicians who have held some of the highest offices in the land.
Leading the way throughout the proceedings was former foreign secretary Jack Straw. Straw, who has inexplicably become one of the Islamic Republic’s staunchest defenders in recent years, could barely contain his enthusiasm for the country. Whereas he took the opportunity to lambast the pro-Israel lobby in America, Straw spoke warmly of “the big and vibrant Iranian diaspora in the United States.” Like some sort of travel agent he also reflected whimsically on his trips to Iran, insisting “people thought I was going to the Moon or something. It was absolutely amazing. In fact Tehran feels like Madrid or Athens rather than Cairo or Mumbai.” Straw is right, Tehran is nothing like Cairo or Mumbai; in those cities one doesn’t find people being publicly executed on charges of drug dealing and homosexuality. As for Athens and Madrid, Straw must have caught them on an off day.
He took quite a different attitude to the U.S. however. Straw claimed that “neocons in the Bush Administration” had derailed his efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran and pursued a policy that got Ahmadinejad elected as Iranian president: “they begat the Ahmadinejad regime.” But elsewhere Straw has also claimed that the same neocons in the Bush administration essentially had him fired as foreign secretary. Their channels of influence were beyond parallel it seems.
Where Straw really surpassed himself was when he treated the parliamentary committee to a diatribe about the influence of Israel and the “axis” of the Israel lobby, before indulging in some pop-psychiatry about the driving force behind American foreign policy:
What worries me, at the same time, is that there is an agenda by the right-wing in Israel, typified by Netanyahu and those to the right of him in the very fractious coalition he leads, and those in the United States, with the axis being the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It suits them to demonise Iran. I think that for a long time there has been a pervasive vulgarity to part of the narrative of American foreign policy. It requires there to be a demon. For a long time, the obvious demon was the Soviet Union, and that suited everybody. That collapsed and we have moved on to other demons. They need a demon. It is not about foreign policy analysis; they have a psycho-political need. Iran is that demon. The parody of Iran that comes across the Atlantic is extraordinary in my view.
These remarks are reminiscent of those that former Israeli MK Einat Wilf reported from Straw when she told of how, during one meeting, Straw had spoken of how “unlimited funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the U.S. are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s obsession with defending Israel were the problem.” Indeed, with these comments and the others mentioned here, Straw not only advocates for Iran, he even appears to be parroting Iranian conspiracies. Last year Straw penned a piece in the Times of London titled “Israel must learn that cruelty does not pay,” which is presumably what attracts Straw to the mullahs and their anti-cruelty regime in Iran.
This effort to explicitly demonstrate how much more virtuous than Israel the Iranians are seems to be a favorite of Straw’s. Apparently forgetting that Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or ignoring the vast body of intelligence that exists to indicate that Iran is in breach of that treaty, Straw said:
You can make that case against any international partner at all—you can easily make it against Israel, let me say, who signs up to all sorts of things and then doesn’t do them—but on the whole, the history of Iran is that where they sign up to texts, they implement them.
What the proceedings of this committee demonstrated, however, is that Straw’s views are not simply those of someone going head-to-head with Jimmy Carter to be known as the leading out-of-office crank. For also during the hearing, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn expressed his view that “the UK Government are right to develop relations with Iran; there is no question about that” and warned against what he described as the “rightwing” view in America that aims to isolate Iran. Corbyn spoke, almost hopefully, of how “there might be an interesting parting of the ways between the USA and western Europe somewhere down the line.”
Also adding to the chorus of Iranian sympathizes was former-Chancellor Norman Lamont, who claimed that Saudi Arabia and Israel had distorted Iranian president Rouhani’s words against him. Lamont added “I think both Saudi Arabia and Israel, and it is convenient for them, want to keep Iran as a country that is beyond the pale. They would face a challenge if there was any normalization of relations and then there would be another power in the area with some influence on the West.”
British politicians, in their readiness to embrace Iran, seem to be forgetting the many British servicemen killed by Iranian-made IEDs, the British naval personnel kidnapped in 2007, or the storming of the British embassy in Tehran in 2011.