Britain’s new foreign secretary has face-to-face experience with Iran

New UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, appointed by new Prime Minister Liz Truss today, held the Middle East dossier at the Foreign Office 2020-22.

As Minister of State for the Middle East, Africa and North America until February, Cleverly has direct experience of relations with Iran. Three months after President Ebrahim Raisi took office, Cleverly met in November 2021 in London Ali Bagheri Kani, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and Chief Nuclear Negotiator. , in March 2022.

While Cleverly said immediately after the meeting that he had urged Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, his meeting with Bagheri-Kani appears to have focused on the two detained British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zeghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori. The detainees’ families and many analysts refused to believe demands of Tehran and London that the detentions were not formally linked to Britain’s failure to meet a £400 million ($460 million) debt owed to Iran for not delivering arms in the years 1970 which Tehran had paid in advance.

James Cleverly arrives at number 10 Downing Street, London, September 6, 2022

When Zeghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were released in March 2022, Cleverly, still minister of state but no longer covering the Middle East, said the talks had been “incredibly difficult” and that London had taken “every precaution”. that the £400million would be used for “humanitarian” purposes.

“There was a court ruling that went against the UK, and we are complying with that court ruling, but there were practical difficulties,” Cleverly said. “You can’t just write a check because of all these penalties, because of all these counters – the terrorism and anti-money laundering laws.

He floated the idea that talks on debt repayment and the release of prisoners could set a wider precedent: “I hope Iran will see that a change in behavior can lead to positive changes, but in in the end, they are the ones responsible for it. And if they were to change their behavior, then the international posture towards them could be reviewed.

Cleverly also insisted that Britain was working hard to secure the release of a third detainee in Iran, Morad Tahbaz, who holds US citizenship as well as British and Iranian citizenship.

While some commentators have suggested Liz Truss may take a tougher line on Iran than her predecessor Boris Johnson, Truss’ long history of pragmatism suggests she may try to maintain a common approach with the Biden administration, the France and Germany. Skillfully, a strong supporter of Truss who first joined the cabinet in 2019 alone and is currently education secretary, seems a willing ally in such an approach.