For over 150 years many Iranians have believed that nothing can happen in politics anywhere without the British having a hand.
One of the most popular proverbs in Persian reads: All is the work of the English! (Kar kar englisi hast!)
Try telling the average Persian that long gone are the days when the British Empire, often using gunboat diplomacy, could impose its wishes on weaker nations. They believe that even today, Britain, although a middle-sized power in military and economic terms, is the world’s real “superpower” in terms of political chicanery and diplomatic guile.
“The Americans dance on the little finger of the English,” says Ayatollah Mahmoud Janati, a leading Khomeinist. ” America may be the muscle, but England is the brain!”
Not surprisingly, the visit to Tehran by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw this week, is already at the center of heated debates both among the mullahs and their opponents.
Straw is no stranger in Tehran. He is, in fact, the only prominent Western politician to have visited the Iranian capital on four occasions in less than two years. He has also written columns from some Iranian state-owned newspapers, and spent time to meet as many mullahs, inside and outside the government, as possible.
Straw became something of a hero among the mullahs last year by asserting in an article that he wrote for a Tehran paper that Israel was the principal obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East. Straw’s three previous visits to Tehran were understandable for at least two reasons.
The first was that the Anglo-American Coalition needed Iran’s neutrality, if not active support, in toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Baathists in Iraq. Straw achieved remarkable success on both occasions.
The second reason was that Straw believed that Britain needed its own direct assessment of the Iranian situation rather than relying on second hand analyses from France and Germany.
But what is the reason for Straw’s current visit?
Foreign Office sources in London say he is going to Tehran to assess the situation in the light of growing unrest prompted by the opposition movement. They also say that Straw will seek to persuade the mullahs to open their nuclear program to meaningful inspection by the outside world.
This, however, is not how the mullahs see the visit. Their media claims that the British leader has come to “offer an apology” for remarks made by Prime Minister Tony Blair at the House of Commons last Wednesday. In those remarks, Blair indicated that his government regards the Iranian pro democracy movement as a serious challenge to the mullahs and worthy of support.
As the opposition movement gathers momentum in Iran, it is imperative that the United States, the European Union, and other major powers speak in unison in support of reform and democratization.
The worst thing to do is to give the impression that the major democracies are prepared to bolster the mullahs’ tottering regime in the name of “dialogue” and in the hope of real or imagined economic reasons.
The idea of a dialogue with the mullahs was first circulated by Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the man who served as Germany’s foreign minister for in the 1980s. Genscher called his policy “critical dialogue,” prompting the joke that what he meant was that when the mullahs met the Europeans for a dialogue, both criticized the United States.
The mullahs repaid Genscher by sending a mob to burn the German embassy in Tehran during a stage-managed demonstration. Then in 1992 Tehran dispatched a hit squad to murder four exile opposition leaders in Berlin. Much to Genscher’s chagrin, the criminal court in Berlin issued arrest warrants for four of Iran’s top leader, including the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenehi on charges of having organized the political murders.
The French tried their version of “dialogue critique” with the mullahs. They were rewarded with the capture of several of their citizens, and the murder of their ambassador in Beirut by terrorist gangs financed by Tehran. French Ambassador to Tehran Guy Georgy was also seized as a hostage in 1984. Throughout the “dialogue” Tehran agents murdered 17 Iranian dissidents in France and killed another 30 French citizens in various terrorist operations in Paris and other major French cites. All that ended when the French, exasperated by the bad faith of the mullahs, suspended diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic for over two years.
Now, however, France is trying to make a spectacular comeback on the Iranian scene. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has visited Tehran on three occasions in less than a year in the hope of promoting an alliance to counter “American designs” in Iraq and the Middle East at large.
As a show of goodwill to the mullahs, the French police have arrested hundreds of Iranian exiles living in and around Paris and told several prominent opposition leaders to leave France.
The mullahs are seeking similar “gestures” from Britain.
Straw would be mistaken to go down that shameful road. The Khomeinist regime is deeply divided with a growing faction within it seeking a deal with the opposition. Straw should encourage that faction to make its move as soon as possible. He should also dispel the mullahs’ illusion that they can build a nuclear arsenal without risking military retaliation by the United States.
Because many mullahs believe that the “the English” really know what they are talking about, Straw could make a positive contribution by putting the fear of god in them.
— Amir Taheri’s tenth book L’Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes, was just published by Editions Complexe, Paris. Taheri was born in Iran. He’s available through www.benadorassociates.com.