Memorandum submitted by Christopher Rundle
1. I served as an analyst and researcher in the
FCO dealing primarily with Iran from 1977 until I retired with
the rank of Counsellor in 1998. I worked in the British diplomatic
mission in Tehran in 1979, 1980, and 1981-84, and have revisited
Iran several times since then. I was last there, for an academic
conference, in April 2000. The following observations are correct
to the best of my recollection and knowledge.
2. After the 1979 revolution the UK was,
after Israel and the USA, the country towards which the new regime
was most hostile. This was because of our past interference in
Iran, our closeness to the Shah, and our closeness also to the
United States. Political relations were tense, and in 1980 the
British Embassy was closed after a warning from the Iranian Foreign
Ministry that it could not guarantee our safety. It was eight
years before the Embassy could be reopenedonly for the
Iranians to break diplomatic relations over Salman Rushdie's book
The Satanic Verses three months later, in March 1989.
3. Diplomatic relations were restored in
September 1990. The catalyst for this was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait,
which gave Iran and the UK greater need to be talking to each
other. At the time there were still British hostages in Lebanon
held by Islamic militants under Iranian influence; and the British
businessman Roger Cooper, sentenced to "death plus 10 years"
for alleged espionage, was still in prison in Iran. It was considered
right to increase the chances of solving these humanitarian problems
through dialogue rather than cold shoulder the Iranian regime.
4. When diplomatic relations were restored
we did not appoint an Ambassador, even though our European partners
had Ambassadors in place. Only in September 1998 was it agreed
by the British and Iranian Foreign Ministers, meeting in New York
in the margins of the UN General Assembly, that relations should
be upgraded from Charge d'Affaires to Ambassador level. At the
same time a partial solution was found to the Rushdie problem,
with the Iranian government disassociating itself from Ayatollah
Khomeini's edict and both sides indicating a desire for a more
constructive relationship. Ambassadors were exchanged in May 1999.
Iran's Foreign Minister visited London in January 2000, and met
the Prime Minister. The Foreign Secretary has said that he will
visit Iran, but his visit has been postponed twice.
5. Two main strands may be discerned in
British policy towards Iran in recent years. One has been to attempt
to normalise our relations with Iran and encourage her to cooperate
more closely with the international community; such a policy is,
among other things, beneficial to our commercial interests and
to academic and cultural links. The other strand has been one
of firmness against unacceptable Iranian policies such as support
for terrorism, weapons of mass destruction programmes, human rights
abuses, and (at least until 1998) the Rushdie question.
6. The election of Mohammad Khatami as President
in 1997 and the victory of reformist forces in the parliamentary
elections in 2000 have changed the political landscape in Iranthough
not the entire political system. In my view, the FCO should continue
to follow the policy of constructive engagement embarked upon
after Khatami's election, and if possible accelerate it. Such
a policy would be in our national interest, including our commercial
interest, and would contribute to stability in the area of the
Persian Gulf and Central Asia. With the Foreign Secretary's visit
to Iran twice postponed, we risk falling behind major EU partners
and competitors: not only have their Foreign Ministers exchanged
visits, but since coming to office President Khatami himself has
visited Italy, France and Germany.
7. A particular bone of contention between
Iran and the UK has been the support which some MPs give to the
Iran opposition group the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MKO) and the National
Council of Resistance of which it is a constituent (and dominant)
part. The FCO might be more active in informing MPs of the real
nature of this group, which does not represent a democratic alternative
to the present regime in Iran.