Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said if you don’t hear the drums of war you must be deaf. In the UK, however, the drums of war have become a wall of sound, with the tightening of sanctions on the Islamic republic but an indication that the worst is surely coming.
That is why opponents of sanctions have been calling on the UK government to stop supporting US policy towards Iran. The UK is barking up the wrong tree when it comes to the sanctions approach, they argue. This approach will not help achieve the final objective, which is to catalyse a Persian version of the Arab Spring resulting in regime change in Tehran.
Lord Lamont, a former chancellor of the exchequer, believes sanctions are useless and are only hindering the British economy in a time of economic hardship. “I can only say we are banging our heads against a wall with this approach. Iran will not buckle under these sanctions," he was quoted as saying.
Lamont, chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, a UK-based trade group, warns that sanctions are counterproductive. “The sanctions will help the Iranian regime raise the mentality of challenge and siege and the spirit of self-reliance among the Iranian people as it did during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988),” Lamont said in a recent radio documentary.
Lamont is one of a growing number in the UK who are calling for the reassesment of the sanctions regime, which costs UK businesses dearly.
Figures filled by UK companies exporting to Iran show that direct trade dropped from just under £500 million in 2008 to an estimated £170 million last year. “This is mad. We are losing our manufacturing and trade relationships (with Iran),” Jon Snow, the well-known broadcaster for Channel 4, said.
“I have been investigating the companies that have been going to the wall in the northwest of Britain because of the sanctions. Little companies that produced widgets that have nothing to do with the bombs but are caught by the sanctions,” Snow said in a lecture he gave recently at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House).
He added: “Britain is bigger than this. We do not believe in sanctions anyway. Why do we need it?”
The UK government argues that the sanctions are still the alternative to military action. “The Iranians did not leave us with other options,” a UK official told Ahram Online. “We tried negotiations for many years, but the Iranians are buying time and are not serious about settling the issue through talks.”
"We would ask everyone to understand that what we're engaged in here is a matter of national security; it's designed to make us safer; it's designed to bring the Iranians to the negotiation table and make them pause,” Alistair Burt MP, a Foreign Office official, explained
"It's not the easiest of processes, but thinking of the alternative, it's a lot better than that. Look at the Americans," Lamont hinted.
The UK was the first country to respond to US sanctions on Iran. “Americans are bullying banks in other countries. They are terrifying the companies in other countries,” Lamont said. "The UK should say to the Americans that they have no right to impose their laws on us,” he went on to say.
UK policymakers seem to be relying on people-to-people contacts to bring change in Iran. They put a great deal of resources into communicating with the Iranian people through media and the internet.
Last year, the UK Foreign Office launched a website to strengthen relations with ordinary Iranians. The purpose, according to the Foreign Office, was “to give information about the United Kingdom and our policies towards Iran, but also to make it possible to have discussions, to ask questions. We welcome your participation in this site.”
The UK perspective is that winning hearts and minds and supporting the “democracy movement” inside Iran would help change its mullah-led regime. The final aim is, as Burt put it, to stop Iran's nuclear programme, while this can only be achieved if the regime in Tehran changes.
Although he dislikes the Iranian regime, Lord Lamont did not buy his government’s argument that the mullahs are planning to build nuclear weapons. “Having the nuclear threshold does not mean Iran will build a nuclear bomb,” he argued, adding that many countries have nuclear capability but did not seek to have nuclear weapons.
Snow argues that the UK should admit that it needs Iran ”for our presence in Afghanistan, for our residue in Iraq, for our need in Syria, for the Middle East.” “There is no solution to anything in that region without Iran.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who used to support the option of military intervention in Iran, has joined the growing camp against and is now calling for different approach. “It (Iran) is a great civilisation,” said Blair in a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph. He also advised that the UK should support and engage the Iranians if a "Persian Spring" is to occur.