Iran’s Majlis downgrades ties with Britain

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani declared that:  "This is just the beginning"

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani declared that: "This is just the beginning"

Source: ISNA , Date: 27 November 2011

Iran’s legislature, the Majlis, passed the “Downgrading Relations with Britain Plan” today with 179 yes votes, 4 no votes and 11 abstentions. Among other things, the plan calls for the Islamic Republic to significantly reduce economic relations and downgrade diplomatic ties with Great Britain from the ambassadorial level to charge d’affair within two weeks. The passing of the plan followed Britain’s decision last week to place sanctions on Iran’s financial system by cutting-off all ties between British financial institutions and Iran’s Central Bank. Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani thanked representatives for passing what he called a “measured” and “revolutionary” response and declared that:

“The British government must be aware that the Majlis is closely observing their behavior and that this is just the beginning.”

The plan includes a caveat allowing the upgrading of ties if Britain lifts the sanctions, and a provision for further such actions at the request of the foreign minister if other countries followed in Britain’s footsteps.

They cited the main motivation for passing the plan as defending “national interests” and the “rights of the nation”, and named several actions by Britain which they claimed had led up to the decision. These included a history of animosity between Iran and Britain pre-dating the Islamic Revolution of 1979, British support for the “sedition”, the regimes term for post-election protests in 2009-2010, and the unprecedented action of sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank.

There were critics of the plan in the Majlis however. Representative Mahmoud Ahmadi-Bighash and others who disagreed with the plan claimed that it was too soft and did not go far enough:

“If foreign media are observing today’s [Majlis] session, they should know that there is no one in the Majlis whose heart is with the British, but rather that it is our belief that this plan must be firmer and harsher against Britain…We must lock the British Embassy until the time they come begging to us like the Americans.”

He stated that a similar plan had been considered by the Majlis last year, but said with a hint of regret that it had not passed because of the opposition of some representatives.

Representative Nouraollah Heidari agreed with Ahmadi-Bighash. Referring to the caveat which allowed for diplomatic ties to be upgraded if Britain changed its behaviour toward Iran, Heidari sarcastically added:

“In this plan there are faint hints of hope that the British government will change its methods and the level of relations may change…if a wolf can change its characteristics then so can Britain.”

A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson responded to Majlis’ action today, saying in part that:

“The Iranian Parliament’s vote to expel our Ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, is regrettable. This unwarranted move will do nothing to help the regime address their growing isolation or international concerns about their nuclear programme and human rights record”

“If the Iranian Government acts on this, we will respond robustly in consultation with our international partners.”

Editor’s note: While the British move to cut of ties with Iran’s financial system certainly adds to the latter’s isolation, the reaction of the Majlis and other key governing bodies within the Islamic Republic indicates that this is a burden they are willing to bear in order to continue current policies. For the time-being at least it appears that Iran’s eyes are firmly fixed on the United States, and it views its ties with powers such as Britain as secondary and possibly even expendable.