A radical change is needed in the way of approaching UK-Iran bilateral relations, to address disputes and create new opportunities for dialogue and business, a Cranfield academic has told the UK Parliament.

Submitting evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Dr Anicée Van Engeland, Senior Lecturer in International Security at Cranfield University, set out five key recommendations to support British engagement with Iran and build a more constructive relationship:

  • Find new interlocutors – it is necessary to open a dialogue with the Conservatives, called the Principalists;

  • Adopt a new narrative and tone – the UK needs to move from a “naming and shaming” approach to a more neutral stance;

  • Acknowledge the resilience of the Islamic Republic of Iran – the system has proven to be resilient and regime change isn’t an option for external actors;

  • Acknowledge Iran as a regional power and avoid confrontation – accept the role of Iran in the region and seek to get closer to the country and its leaders so to have an influence in the region;

  • Adopt an approach of defence engagement – work on a soft form of defence engagement with the regular state armed forces to support them.

Dr Van Engeland, a leading expert in Iranian affairs who has addressed the United Nations and provided briefings to the UK armed forces on the subject, said: 

“The purpose of these recommendations is to enable the British Government to engage constructively with their Iranian counterparts, at different levels, rather than to seek solely to de-escalate tensions, and to enable the UK to drive reforms itself, instead of playing a secondary role. 

“This would position the UK as a neutral actor, with the potential of creating opportunities for negotiation to address past and recent tensions, leading to the release of British citizens, and the resolution of financial bilateral disputes, but also upholding or re-negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal].

“Adopting the recommendations will promote a new way for the UK to conduct its bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, one that should benefit both nations.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee UK and Iran inquiry is exploring the basis of the engagement between the UK and Iran, what it has comprised, and how successful it has been in securing the UK’s foreign-policy objectives. As well as considering both sides of the bilateral relationship, the inquiry is also looking at the approaches and priorities that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has pursued in multilateral diplomacy.

Full submissions to the inquiry can be read here

About Cranfield University

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