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

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone