Norman Lamont, the UK trade envoy to Iran, on May 22 weighed into the row over the “unremitting hostility” expressed towards the Islamic Republic by Donald Trump during his visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel.
After a landslide re-election on May 19, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani essentially extended an invitation to governments around the world, traders and investors, declaring that in shunning his hardline opponents the Iranian people had chosen “the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism”.
In a television interview with Bloomberg, Lord Lamont, a former British chancellor of the exchequer, said: “President Rouhani was quite outspoken during the election campaign not just about getting trade and investment into Iran but also about improving relations with the outside world and he specifically mentioned Saudi Arabia, and there is no need for this tremendous enmity between the two. I felt it was sad really that President Trump could not even acknowledge when he was in Saudi Arabia what President Rouhani had said.”
The peer added: “Do we really believe that the only way to treat Iran is just to be unremittingly hostile and even when someone moves a bit towards your point of view not even to recognise that and not respond in any positive way at all?”
Trump has partly spent his Middle East tour condemning Shi'ite Iran for supporting militants and terrorists and struck a deal to supply Sunni Saudi Arabia with more than a hundred billion dollars of weapons. Turning to this aspect of Trump's first trip abroad as American president, Lord Lamont said: “No attention is paid to the insecurity of Iran, a country which has been invaded by its Arab neighbour in the past, and yet the West goes on pouring arms to the enemies of Iran. We’ve got to look at this with a little bit more understanding of the Iranian position.”
Lord Lamont said he was not saying that “you shouldn't watch them [the Iranians] like hawks” but added: “The point to remember about Shi'ism is that it is much more flexible, much more pragmatic and much more liable to interpretation in the context of the times than is the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia and most of the terrorism the West suffers from comes from Wahhabism from Isil [or Isis] and Al-Qaeda.”
Rouhani, he said, wanted to get the remaining non-nuclear international sanctions imposed against Iran lifted and if the Iranians “are taking a constructive approach you ought in some way to listen to them”.
Iran's struggle to emerge economically since the late 2015 nuclear deal was signed by the major powers in return for a curbing of Tehran's nuclear development programme has been undercut by Washington sanctions which keep the country shut out of the world financial system when it comes to dollar trades and financing.
On May 23, during his first press conference with both foreign and local media since his sweeping win in the election on a turnout of more than 70%, Rouhani said he hoped Trump and his team would soon learn to “settle down” so that everyone could understand what he was proposing.
"Unfortunately, the Americans have always made mistakes in our region," Rouhani said, accusing the US of "lacking knowledge" of the region.
"Who can say regional stability can be restored without Iran? Who can say the region will experience total stability without Iran?" he said.
Rouhani criticised the summit of Muslim countries attended by Trump during his visit, calling the meeting in Saudi Arabia a "a show with no meaning."
"The gathering in Saudi Arabia was just a show with no practical or political value of any kind," Rouhani said.
"You can't solve terrorism just by giving people's money to a superpower," Rouhani added, referring to the arms and other huge commercial deals signed between Washington and Riyadh during Trump’s visit.
Trump continued his condemnation of Iran on arrival in Israel on May 22. "Most importantly, the United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon - never ever - and must cease its deadly funding, training, and equipping of terrorists and militias," he said, speaking at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's residence.
Iran's support of Shi'ite allies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen have sparked concerns among Sunni-majority states and Israel, all of which are keen to curb Tehran's influence.
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