OpinionIran in the World PressTeheran two-times Straw by backing both sides

Teheran two-times Straw by backing both sides

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Daily Telegraph: The past fortnight in Najaf marks the end of the affair between Britain and Iran.
British officials accuse Teheran of infidelity with Moqtada al-Sadr and of breaking its vow over nuclear weapons. Daily Telegraph

By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor

The past fortnight in Najaf marks the end of the affair between Britain and Iran.

British officials accuse Teheran of infidelity with Moqtada al-Sadr and of breaking its vow over nuclear weapons.

The question now is whether the sides maintain a cold but cordial relationship for the sake of their wider interests, or head for a dangerous divorce.

The estrangement is a blow for Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who has courted Teheran with passion despite warnings from American hardliners that it would all end in disaster.

The breakdown happened over the summer. British officials who only weeks ago refused to accept US accusations that Iran was helping Iraqi insurgents no longer bother to hide their anger.

The crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme also came to a head over the summer, when Iran reneged on its agreement with three European countries – Britain, France and Germany – to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activity.

Enrichment can be used to make either fuel for power stations, or fissile material for atomic weapons.

The governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to discuss its next move in Vienna next month.

The US, accusing Iran of trying to make nuclear weapons, wants it to be reported to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

In retrospect, Iran’s brief detention of eight British Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel on the Shatt al-Arab waterway in June was the first sign of serious trouble. British officials at the time played down any link to the nuclear question.

But it is probably no coincidence that the servicemen were held on the same day that Hassan Rowhani, the Iranian official charged with handling the nuclear crisis, wrote to the “EU 3” to announce that Iran would resume making and testing uranium enrichment centrifuges.

On Wednesday the Iranian defence minister, Rear Adml Ali Shamkhani, said that the presence of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, far from being a threat to Teheran, meant the US troops were now “hostage” to Iran.

One possibility is that Iran is supporting the Shia uprising to demonstrate this assertion – threatening to kill off the Iraqi interim government if Teheran is pushed too hard on the nuclear question.

British officials say it is impossible to prove “there is an Iranian bullet in British casualties”.

But Sadr’s Mahdi army has undoubtedly made an effort to intensify its campaign in the British-controlled sector. Basra, which has been relatively quiet, has seen the deaths of four British soldiers since the end of June.

Soon after becoming Foreign Secretary, Mr Straw seized on the September 11 attacks to try to transform Iran from a “rogue” regime into a friend of the West.

He visited Iran five times in two years, so often that Iranian dissidents mocked him as “Ayatollah Straw”. But nobody in the Foreign Office now expects another trip.

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