Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Tehran’

Iran Lays out the Welcome Mat

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th December, 2015

Espinas Palace hotelThe successful conclusion of nuclear talks with Iran earlier this year means that the Islamic Republic has been losing its pariah status with much of the previously critical world. This should lead to far more inter-action between Iran and erstwhile enemies, including the “Great Satan”, the United States, and bilateral improvements in visa regimes. The head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organisation, Masoud Soltanifar, expects that this warming of relations will lead to a sharp rise in the number of foreign tourists to his country, and in preparation for this, Iran has been building no fewer than 125 4-star and 5-star hotels to cater for the anticipated influx. A number of leading international hotel corporations have been involved in this frenzy of building, including France’s Accor Group and the UAE-based Rotana.
PersepolisAs someone who has travelled very widely in Iran, I can testify that it is indeed a treasure-house of cultural heritage, from the atmospheric ruins of Persepolis to the historic tea-houses of Isfahan and the rose gardens of Shiraz. It’s true that the capital Tehran is one of the most congested and polluted cities on earth, but even there there is much to enjoy, from the large downtown bazaar to the jaw-droppingly vulgar complex of palaces inhabited by the last Shah. Of course, 36 years after the Revolution that ousted the Shah, this is still a strict Islamic Republic in which women have to cover themselves, mixed swimming pools are a no-no and you won’t find anything stronger than a non-alcoholic beer to drink.  But for anyone who is willing to accept those cultural differences Iran is about to lay out the welcome mat and share its treasures with the world.

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A New Era in UK-Iran Relations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015

UK Iran 1The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.

UK Iran Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.

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We Don’t Need a War with Iran

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th December, 2011

The rhetoric between London and Tehran has been escalating alarmingly; a metaphorical bucket of cold water needs to be thrown over the situation before it bursts into flames that could otherwise cause conflict across the Middle East and beyond. There was no excuse for the protestors’ assault on the British Embassy copound in Tehran the other day; under the Vienna protocols, diplomatic premises are inviolate and host nations must help protect them. The fact that the Iranian Foreign Ministry apologised for the incident shows the government is aware of that, though the assault itself — in which there was some damage to the building, documents were scattered and embassy staff had to seek sanctuary in a safe room — means that at least someone in a position of authority in Iran sanctioned the protest. The British Embassy staff later left Iran and Iranian diplomatic personnel in London were expelled, receiving  heroes’ welcome when they returned home, underlining the theatrical aspect of the affair. But the context is much more serious than theatre.

The embassy assault was in reaction to Britain’s racheting up financial sanctions against Iran in the wake of a somewhat ambiguous report from the IAEA about the real nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. The government in Tehran disputes claims that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, and there needed to be more incontrovertible evidence to the contrary before Britain raised the stakes in this increasingly dangerous stand-off. Passions are running hgh in the Islamic Republic among those who feel the country is surrounded by the US and NATO forces and is living under the threat of a pre-emptive strike from Israel. Israel, meanwhile, is nervous about President Ahmadinejad’s claim to want to ‘wipe Israel off the map’. Germany has reportedly sold (at a discount) submarines to Israel that are capable of launching nuclear missiles. The final, explosive element is the intensifying civil war in Syria, whose despicable régime is a firm ally of Iran. The combination of these ingredients makes a regional conflagration, into which Western powers could be drawn, only too plausible. At this juncture, everyone concerned would be well advised to bear in mind Winston Churchill’s dictum: “Jaw jaw is better than war war”.

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