Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tehran's Reality Check for Blair

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tehran's Reality Check for Blair

Article excerpt

The day after I arrive in a cold and wet Tehran, Tony Blair says that Iran could be asked to use its influence to help stabilise the situation in Iraq--but only if it adheres to a number of preconditions, such as ending uranium enrichment. The Prime Minister's speech receives considerable media attention in the west. Not so in Tehran. There was very little mention of it in the large number of state and independent newspapers. I called the British embassy in Tehran and was told that no one in the Iranian government or media had been in touch with them about Blair's comments.

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As even Blair admitted, he was only repeating something he'd said earlier in the year. But in Tehran it has received very little attention for different reasons. The Prime Minister's comments about the role Iran could be invited to play in Iraq have been widely viewed here as being for western political consumption. The notion that it is for Britain and the United States to invite Iran to play any kind of role is viewed by many commentators here as being completely fanciful. The consensus in Tehran is that London and Washington are in no position to negotiate or set preconditions on this issue, and that it is the Iranian government, not the UK and US, which has a variety of strategic options in Iraq. The sudden hosting of high-level talks in Tehran this weekend between the Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian governments is a potent demonstration of this.

The man widely described as being the most powerful figure in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual head of Iraq's majority Shia population, is himself Iranian. The vast majority of political exiles who returned to Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein went home from Iran, not London or Washington. Yet despite the unrealistic, and at times condescending, language used by both Blair and George W Bush, there are many Iranians who feel that their government should play a role in quelling the violent instability in Iraq. …

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