Next week’s meeting of the G7 leaders in Biarritz, France, comes as tensions with Iran have spiked. The gathering presents the world’s most advanced economic nations with an opportunity to show unity against the Islamic Republic’s belligerence. But this will only happen if the heads of state come to possess a clear-eyed view of what Tehran really is: a dictatorship with imperial and nuclear ambitions.
The United States understands Iran’s evil objectives, and U.S. President Trump should be applauded for withdrawing from the ill-fated 2015 Iran nuclear accord. The United Kingdom should do likewise, but sadly, the British government has remained a staunch believer in the deal with a regime that has proven time again that it is not to be trusted.
It seems that Downing Street is playing down the international embarrassment that Iran is still holding hostage a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, and its 23 crew while the Iranian Grace-1 oil tanker has been released from Gibraltar. Nor do our leaders seem terribly concerned with the fate of British subjects held prisoner by the Islamic Republic.
New leader of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson will recall that while he served as foreign secretary, British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 for the trumped-up charge of “plotting to topple the Iranian government” and remains in prison to this day. Even last week, Tehran elected to give her less access to her family. She can now only see her daughter once a month and can no longer call her husband in London. Let’s be in no doubt: This action by Iran aims to embarrass now Johnson, whom some feel is partly responsible for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s extended sentence.
Likewise, when our leaders consider defending the Iran nuclear deal, they might recall that the agreement was struck with the captors of Aras Amiri, an Iranian student at London’s Kingston University and permanent resident of the United Kingdom who, according to her testimony, was arrested for refusing to spy for Iran. Amiri appealed against her 10-year sentence, though last week was denied.
Finally, we should also consider the plight of British-Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady, who was arrested by Iranian authorities less than two weeks ago. No actual charges have been announced; he was simply kidnapped by the Iranian regime.
This is how Iran conducts its foreign policy. It puts a gun to the head of innocent people and then expects Western nations to capitulate to Iranian demands. There is no way to trust such a regime and no way to verify that Iran is abiding by the nuclear accord. The deal is worthless. And lest anyone believe that all of this is somehow the result of the United States pulling out of the accord, recall that Iran’s international belligerence, support for terror and hatred for all things Western goes back to the very founding of the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s latest antics, both its kidnapping of Westerners and its seizure of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, are part of a wider effort to blackmail European countries into remaining party to the Iran nuclear agreement because it affords Tehran economic benefits. But the time has come to stop paying Iran’s ransom demands.
During his election campaign, Johnson promised to be tough on Iran. The United Kingdom has now joined with the United States in the mission to protect the Strait of Hormuz from further Iranian tanker seizures, but only after attempts to create a European task force failed. Joining with America on this singular mission is a positive move, but it’s not enough. The United Kingdom must walk away from the failed nuclear agreement. We must demand the immediate and unconditional release of British citizens. And we must restart sanctions against the Iranian regime to maximize economic and diplomatic pressure on this tyrant.
Tehran doesn’t understand compromise; the regime confuses it with weakness. It only understands strength. The British have faced this kind of enemy before. Let us recall the lessons of our own history and cease appeasing an evil regime. If, at this moment, the United Kingdom shows clear moral leadership in the effort to defang Tehran, then maybe the world’s leading economies will follow suit, and we’ll have a real opportunity to avoid a conflict with Iran that no one wants.
Des Starritt is the executive director of CUFI UK.