Politics: As the Government Gently Distances Us from Washington, Jack Straw's Low-Key Diplomacy in Iran Has Become Crucial to the Future of British Foreign Policy

By Kampfner, John | New Statesman (1996), January 31, 2005 | Go to article overview

Politics: As the Government Gently Distances Us from Washington, Jack Straw's Low-Key Diplomacy in Iran Has Become Crucial to the Future of British Foreign Policy


Kampfner, John, New Statesman (1996)


Which world capitals has Jack Straw visited most in his four years as Foreign Secretary? Numbers one and two are Brussels and Washington; no surprise there. Three is Tehran. He has been there five times, sometimes on his own and sometimes in with the French and Germans, trying to persuade the Iranian authorities to comply with the strictures of the International Atomic Energy Agency--five times to a country that is top of the US government's latest axis of evil list.

Operation Bush Distance, first alluded to in this column a year ago, proceeds steadily but stealthily. It is not advertised, but on a host of issues the transatlantic symmetry is not what it was. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that London will not be one of the destinations for George W Bush's European tour at the end of February. He will take in Brussels, Berlin and Bratislava in what is billed as a tentative bridge-building exercise with the Germans and the Russians, but not London. Everyone knows the electoral damage the photo opportunity outside 10 Downing Street would do to Blair. No invitation was offered and none was sought.

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Blair will see Bush at Nato and EU headquarters, but note the change in tone coming from the PM. Gone is the lofty rhetoric of the two leaders blazing a trail for democracy around the world. Blair's language about the Iraqi elections has been more measured and less bombastic recently. Expectations have been pared to a minimum. Now the word is that a 30 per cent overall turnout would be satisfactory. Blair is already floating the idea of a phased withdrawal of forces. He is desperate to be rid of the issue by the time of the UK general election, the date of which will depend partly on levels of violence in Iraq after the voting there. (The return of the remaining Guantanamo captives removes another Bush-linked problem.) He hopes that, where foreign policy does feature in campaigning, the focus will be more on Africa and climate change than the errors of the second term.

Drawing grains of comfort from statements in Washington has become a pastime among British officials. Some of it is done in jest. One UK diplomat suggests "outposts of tyranny" is an improvement on "axis of evil", because "it denotes an element of European rationalism, in that at least tyranny is an objective term whereas evil is a biblical subjective one". The inclusion of Zimbabwe on the list is seen as a positive. America's apparent ambivalence towards Robert Mugabe's human rights abuses rankled in London. …

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