In a fortnight of tense diplomatic stand-off between Iran and the UK, the latter appears to be making good on earlier promise that escalation of hostilities was not on the table.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, revealed over the recent past that he had personally called his Iranian counter-part, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to assure him of the UK’s desire for a peaceful solution.
For those who may not be in the know, nearly two weeks ago British Marines accompanied by the local police in Gibraltar seized a Panama-flagged oil supertanker they suspected was ferrying oil to Syria in contravention of the EU and US sanctions against Damascus.
In the past weekend’s revelations by the British foreign office, Mr. Hunt is quoted as having assured Tehran that accosting and seizing the tanker was purely on the basis of the suspected destination (Syria) of the cargo and not its origins (Iran).
Spanish authorities in Madrid, which considers waters around the Southern Coast of the Iberian Peninsula off Gibraltar where the tanker was seized to be theirs, have publicly accused the UK of acting to appease the US, enforcing Washington’s hostile policy towards Iran.
This is happening at a bad time for the UK, which is faced with divisive domestic politics pertaining to Brexit, the expression of the will of the British people to quit the EU during a referendum some four years ago.
In a couple of weeks, UK Prime Minister Teresa May will exit No 10 following her recent resignation as the ruling Conservative Party leader last month after her failure to garner parliamentary support for her Brexit deal.
Tory members are currently toying with whom between Mr. Hunt and his predecessor Boris Johnson should become a new party leader, and automatically the new prime minister.
The decision will be made in the next two weeks and Britain will then have a new prime minister within weeks.
These are the pressing domestic issues that the UK is grappling with. Brexit has divided the UK in a manner never seen in contemporary history.
Hence, unnecessary international distraction, particularly of the UK’s own making, should be the last thing amid the looming trickier times.
The initiative by Mr. Hunt to de-escalate tension with Iran is, therefore, a superb move. This is particularly so in the light of the increasing appetite from Tehran to “slap Britain in the face” over the seizure of the oil tanker.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been itching for a tit-for-tat. Major-General Mohsen Rezaee, a top IRGC official, was quoted as saying: “Iran should seize one of the British vessels if the tanker is not released.”
Now, any military confrontation in the region spells doom and gloom not only for the region but for the entire universe.
For preachers of effective diplomacy, which is characterized by a preference for negotiations over brinkmanship, the UK-Iran’s de-escalation of hostilities is a welcome development. Mr. Hunt has undertaken that Britain will facilitate the release of the captured oil tanker once the two sides reach a common understanding.
The UK is not known for war-mongering foreign policy. In a world that has become one global village, one hopes that Brexit will not lead to the isolation of the UK.
Instead, as the many Brexiteers believe, London’s final divorce from the EU will lead to expedited economic growth and enhanced global stature.
This could be possible as the UK will be at liberty to enter, as anticipated, into a flurry of bilateral and multi-lateral agreements without much ado. In the absence of visionary leadership, a potentially bright future could be scuppered – within a jiffy – by a totally avoidable military confrontation in which, as the saying goes, there are no winners (in any war).