US curbed nuclear deal in 2005: Jack Straw

ASTANA, Apr. 26 (MNA) – In an exclusive interview with Mehr News Agency, former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw talked about a host of issues including JCPOA, ISIL, Yemen and of course Brexit.

The Kazakhstan's capital city of Astana was hosting the 13th Eurasian Media Forum on April 20-22 where many world figures attended as speakers. Former British FM Jack Straw was also among speakers and on the sidelines of the event, sat with Hamid Reza Gholamzadeh of Mehr News Agency's English edition to respond to a number fo questions in an exclusive interview. Here is what he had to share:

NYTimes published a report recently saying that Europeans are dissatisfied with US regulations – sanctions on Iran’s missile program as well as visa waiver rule – and as MEP Marijetje Schaake has put it “Europe is being taken hostage by American policy; We negotiated the nuclear deal together, but now the U.S. is obstructing its execution.” You believe that US administration is pro-JCPOA and it is Congress which is curbing it… do you really think that Obama and his team have done enough to push the deal forward or US is taking JCPOA hostage to put pressure on Iran’s missile program?

I am completely clear that administration of President Obama fully supports BARJAM (JCPOA) and wants to see it implemented; so president Obama and Secretary Kerry invested huge amount of political capital in the BARJAM. As you know, President Obama even had to face down in direct opposition in Congress from BiBi Netanyahu. So currently they strongly in favor of the deal. The problem has arisen between this US administration during the last 9 months of its life of presidency and the Congress are hard for election. Democrat president got Republican Congress, that is important and it is very frustrating. In my view – and I don’t’ speak for British government – it is very frustrating for the UK as well. Both of us have interests in Iran, and are doing what we can to seek resolution to this.

I‘m very concerned about it and many people come to me who are involved or want to be involved in trade with Iran and they are also concerned.

 

During Saadabad negotiations back in your time, you and other European officials didn’t recognize Iran’s right to have centrifuges, while Iran was fully committed to NPT and Additional Protocol; why? And don’t you think that if you had accepted it, the deal might have reached years earlier?

All of us accepted Iran’s right to a civil nuclear program. I personally accepted Iran’s right to run some centrifuges for low enrichment program. We gained the interim agreement in October 2003 that was agreed in Tehran, and we had two more agreements in Paris and Brussels. But we were very close to final agreement; and when I saw Dr. Zarif at the beginning of 2014, on a Parliamentary delegation, he acknowledged that what stopped the deal in 2005 was not about centrifuges; it was our inability to get agreement from the Americans for concessions like aircraft spare parts, etc.

 

You have talked of the role Wahhabism has played in forming extremism and terrorist groups such as ISIL; can you elaborate on that?

Wahhabism was a homegrown movement within Sunni Islam to I quote ‘purify Islam’ and you see that in other religions. I said it is a perversion even from Wahhabism, but it seems to me that to deal with this virus that has infected the mindset of these men, you need to take military action to eliminate them, but you still have to deal with the problem in their mind, and to challenge them theologically; I mean in a very direct way, because what they claim is that the more extreme you are in terms of day to day behavior, the closer you are, they say, to the Almighty and everyone not believing like them is an infidel and it is not only about Christians, it is about Shias as well. They celebrate violence and suppression of women. I don’t see enough challenge, intellectual and theological challenge, against this. Another issue, is lack of what we would call in Europe a reformation within Sunni Islam. I think there are differences between Shiism and Sunnism which are striking in all sorts of ways. I’m very stroked by sorts of parallels between what we had in Europe and there was in Iran. The fact that in 16th century, in Iran and also in England, the leaders break away from a supernational authority over their religion, and started to develop religious practice and theology to fit in their national culture and identity. So the Safavid in Iran did that and Henry VIII in England. The second thing is because there is an authority structure in Church of England, and also in Shiism, the Ayatollah. The theology of the church requires them to move with the time, to keep with science and to for example encourage literature and books like this. Look at the vibrancy of intellectual life, but also in Iran filmmakers and people like that can go to workshops or so. I know it is a bit of generalization, but there is a shortage of such intellectual figure in some Sunni countries.

 

UK is one of main sources of arms sale to Saudis who reportedly are supporting ISIL with their weapons and you said that ‘there are supports from elements in Saudi Arabia for ISIL in Syria.’ Do you think that London’s selling of weapons to Riyadh can be justified if they are supporting terrorists?

I’m quite sure no arms that we have sold Saudis have gone to ISIL. The system that we have in the United Kingdom for export licenses for arms is very very tight. I cannot comment on particular sales as I haven’t seen the licenses. But I can tell you from my period in government in five years I was in charge of granting license to these exports, we looked at the applications very carefully, and turned down some, and they are all reported to a committee in House of Commons.

President Obama just visited your country, paying probably his farewell visit as president to UK; it seems Brexit is main topic in the meeting; what’s your take on this trip? What outcomes do you expect?

I think what he said was very helpful. And I think it will assist the campaign against Brexit. Let’s say I’m strongly in favor of Britain remaining inside the EU as I see very little advantages in leaving and very big disadvantages and it increases generally the risks to the future of the UK in all sorts of way. So it was very helpful I can say, and I noted there are some politicians on the other side who complained about Mr. Obama’s right to offer his opinions; yet these people like Boris Johnson every day are telling other people what to do! Just as we are entitiled to comment on events and policies in the United States, and we do all the time, they are also entitled to comment on us. I hope very much that we will win; it looks so, but there is still two months to go.

 

For more than a year now, Saudis have been invading Yemen, killing women and children and destroying their infrastructures… without making any success even if we assume that they are fighting for a good reason. Why Europeans and particularly UK are still silent on the issue?!

This silent war shows relativism of news reporting across the world. It is a difficult country to get into, precisely because it is one of the poorest countries in the world and the region. Western states don’t have much of stake in it. That becomes sort of reinforced as people don’t know a great deal about it. Everybody I speak to believes that it has been a disaster and there has to be a political settlement. Of course there are people in GCC who do support this action against Yemen, but there are also people who have serious reservations about the situation in Yemen.

 

So do such things matter in UK export licenses for arms sale that you said?

You asked me questions about licensing for arms; I don’t know quite certainly that none of arms we sold Saudis have gone to ISIL; I don’t know sitting here this morning about the situation of Saudi forces or UAE forces’ use of those arms in Yemen. I think it is being considered to a parliamentary committee in England.

I think there is a general problem about a lack of information and understanding about Yemen. One example is that Houthis who believe in seven Imams, are considered as Shias who believe in 12 Imams.

 

Your idea about leadership of Mr. Jeremy Corbyn in Labour Party?!

AS you know, he and I were together on parliamentary delegation to Iran in January 2014; he is a nice man, very interested in world affairs, I didn’t actually support him; I supported a different candidate, Yvette Cooper, for leadership who I thought was better qualified. Now, he is leader and everyone in Labour party is concentrated on winning upcoming elections of Scotland, London mayor and municipalities elsewhere. We have Sadiq Khan who is Labour candidate for mayor of London, who if elected, will be the first Muslim mayor of London. And further we have referendum on Brexit. So, Mr. Corbyn was elected democratically and we all get on with it.

 

How do you see the relations between Iran and UK after the nuclear deal? In which areas do you see more potentials for cooperation?

Signing of BARJAM, there has been a big change in approach of government overall, and government has now said they want to open and improve relations with Iran and I’m delighted about that. I want to see reopening and flowering of the relationship; I believe there should be beginning of political and cultural cooperation. In terms of business, the prime minister very wisely appointed Lord Norman Lamont as UK trade representative. That’s very important because Lord Lamont, like me, has been a long standing supporter of Iran and spoke out for Iran when it was unpopular to do so. Now we are gradually increasing our diplomatic representation in Tehran. In terms of trade, Britain is very good in oil and gas, and also in manufacturing and obviously in services of all kinds like investment, legal services and so on. That’s why it is very important to us to get the Americans out of the way and have the Americans clear these obstacles out of the way.

I’m a member to British-Iran Chamber of Commerce which is led by Norman Lamont; and there is a great British Iranian diaspora, particularly in London; and they had a tough time during the period of sanctions. I don’t have any formal role in relations, but people come to me for advice.

 

Interview by Hamid Reza Gholamzadeh

Jack Straw served as UK foreign secretary in Tony Blair's cabinet and was one of three European FMs conducting first rounds of nuclear talks between Iran and the EU3.

 

 

 

News Code 116112

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