Jeremy Hunt has suggested the UK could get involved in a US war on Iran while Boris Johnson’s bumbling comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe don’t inspire much confidence, writes Lesley Laird.
Some days it seems as though wherever you look, things are never far from the brink. In the diplomatic world, the febrile relationship between Iran and the USA has officially broken down. All the while, to our shame, the heart-breaking humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen continues to unfold.
In Yemen, there could and should be light at the end of the tunnel. The UK Court of Appeal has ruled the UK Government, on the watch of former and current Foreign Secretaries Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, acted unlawfully in its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. I’m just surprised it took this long for that decision – Labour has been saying the UK has been acting illegally in this area for over three years.
While I am hopeful that the war in Yemen will end soon, we are further away than ever from a diplomatic solution to this breakdown in relations between Iran and the USA. When Trump tore up the nuclear deal, it was clear that things were heading south. The sanctions he has imposed will cripple Iran by stipulating that any company or country that does business with Iran will face penalties if they have assets in the USA.
They come after the USA accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guard of being behind the attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and of shooting down a drone belonging to the US Army. Worryingly, Trump has also revealed that he called off airstrikes against Iran at the last minute – a move that avoided a war for now. Although, is the whole situation better described as a show of strength? Trump prides himself on being the consummate deal-maker and with elections looming next year, this could be his way of strong-arming Iran into signing a new nuclear deal that Trump can use to his advantage during the campaign.
One thing is for certain; a war during an election is never a good idea, particularly when it’s avoidable. It remains to be seen whether this approach will succeed. In Iran, the hard-line theocrats around Ayatollah Khameini now have the upper hand. They always said that President Rouhani’s strategy of engagement with the West was a mistake and, for them, this is the proof. As a result, we see increased testing of ballistic missiles, increased use of rockets, including against US assets in Iraq, and a stockpiling of uranium beyond the limits prescribed in the nuclear deal.
Last week Jeremy Hunt talked about the need to de-escalate the tension. He said that if we don’t, we’ll become “enmeshed” in a war with Iran. We’ve got to keep asking a simple question – why? If America wants to go to war with Iran and the hardliners in Tehran tell them to bring it on, then frankly we need to be prepared to condemn it. One family in the UK is already feeling the consequences of a breakdown in diplomatic relations with Iran. Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife Nazanin has been unjustifiably imprisoned in Iran since September 2016, continues his hunger strike outside Iran’s Embassy.
I wouldn’t trust either of the contenders for Prime Minister to bring this episode to a conclusion – we need cool heads now more than ever. Hunt seems to be amenable to following Trump into a war and Boris’ bumbling comments about Nazanin teaching journalism certainly hasn’t helped her desperate situation. We face many challenges as a country: inequality, poverty, austerity, and climate destruction to name a few. Do you feel safe knowing Boris or Hunt will be responsible for those? I don’t.
Lesley Laird is Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary and MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath