Denis MacShane: US should talk to Iran, before it's too late

Now is the time to send an ambassador - why not Bill Clinton?

Share

There is something of 1914 in the air. The Greys and Poincarés fret as the wheels of conflict trundle inexorably forward. The Iran crisis brings together every world problem: nuclear weapons in the hands of theo-cons who want to exterminate Jews; the economic future of China; and, above all, the inability of a world system or its most powerful state to impose a solution.

Instead of plodding through the rituals of UN Security Council debates with a drift to war, can the United States offer a grand bargain that would transform Iranian politics?

It happened three decades ago when America also faced an ideological opponent whose leaders preached hate of the West and threatened a key US ally across the Taiwan Strait. Yet in one of the boldest strokes of 20th-century diplomacy, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, neither of whom could be accused of liberal soft power modishness, transformed America's and the world's relationship with China.

Diplomatic recognition may seem a fuddy-duddy response to a world problem but a decision by President Bush and his imaginative Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to re-establish diplomatic relations with Tehran or seriously to make the offer would have a transformative impact on the Middle East.

America broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and the hostage-taking in the US embassy in Tehran. Now is the time to send an ambassador to Iran - why not Bill Clinton for the first 12 months? - and initiate a new policy of trade, travel, tourism and mass contact between the people of Iran and the West.

Iran has vibrant politics, a growth rate which matches that of China, and seven out of 10 Iranians are under the age of 30. This generation wants an end to the whippings, executions and endless fear of arrest. Finding a way of engaging with this Iran with its huge pride in Persian history and culture is a priority.

Iran sponsors terrorism but has maintained peaceful relations with Turkey for over five centuries. Were it not for endless meddling by Britain and then America in the quest for oil, Iran could now be en route to being a normal Muslim state like Malaysia or Turkey.

It is not just the West's fault. Iran has created its own status as the diplomatic pariah of the region. Tehran does not recognise Egypt, and of course shuns diplomatic relations with Israel.

The failure of Arab and Muslim states to have diplomatic relations with Israel is a further example of making diplomacy the enemy of progress rather than using state-to-state relations to tackle intractable problems.

Only Jordan and Egypt have full diplomatic relations with Israel. As FCO minister I attended pointless EU conclaves of ministers from Mediterranean countries. As I listened to Arab foreign ministers droning on and their Israeli opposite number being as unhelpful as could be I asked out loud why the Arabs did not recognise Israel and have some of these debates in Tel Aviv, Damascus, or Algiers. Like the child who said the proud emperor was naked, Arab ministers looked in horror at any suggestion that their rejectionist diplomacy was counter-productive.

There is no need to concede an ounce of your opponent's position to enjoy the benefits of diplomatic recognition. France continued to have a functioning embassy in Berlin during the long years of German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine.

One of the best things Robin Cook did was to recognise North Korea in 1998 at a time when North Korea was a pariah state. It meant Britain had access, in a way few other powers did, during key developments in the Korean peninsular since then.

Opening embassies in Tel Aviv would still allow Arab League states to sustain their demands on Israel - evacuation of the occupied territories, a shared capital in Jerusalem, as well as Israel working with Palestinians for the creation of a viable state of Palestine.

The old mantra that diplomatic recognition follows after everything else has been settled reverses priorities. In the 1950s, West Germany's Hallstein doctrine held that Bonn would refuse relations with any country that recognised the Communist German Democratic Republic. Willy Brandt became Germany's Foreign Minister in 1966, recognised the German Democratic Republic, and started the process of hollowing out Communism from within.

Can the United States drop its politics of non-recognition of Iran? Have Bush and Rice the same vision as Nixon and Kissinger? The Iranians need America as a partner, not an enemy. Washington should play this card before tragedy takes over.

Denis MacShane is Labour MP for Rotherham and was a Foreign Office minister 2001-2005

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities