Jack Straw: In Hasan Rouhani’s Iran, you can feel the winds of change

Tehran, Jan 18, IRNA – Returning from a visit to Tehran, former British foreign secretary Jack Straw, said that it’s time for the West to rethink its relationship with Iran, adding "In Hassan Rouhani's Iran, you can feel the wind of change."

Speaking to Independent on Friday, Straw said, "Sanctions notwithstanding, Tehran looks and feels these days more like Madrid or Athens than it does, say, Mumbai or Cairo."

"As the British Parliamentary delegation was driven early last week from Imam Khomeini Airport to our hotel in downtown Tehran I was struck by the amount of infrastructure building there had been in the nine years since I’d last visited, with new motorways and new metro lines under construction."

There are more American PhDs in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Cabinet than there are in US President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, Straw said.

The US quickly squandered all the potential of Mr Khatami’s bid for rapprochement with the West, with the ill-judged inclusion of Iran in President George W Bush’s “axis of evil”, he added.

President Rouhani’s election last summer was as overwhelming as it was surprising, the British ex-foreign secretary said.

Rouhani has made a good start, Straw said, adding, sustained economic recovery depends in part on internal reform, but also on an end to the nuclear-related sanctions.

Sanctions can have eccentric effects. Five hundred Porsches were imported last year, it is claimed. Coca-Cola is freely available; but banking sanctions mean that cancer patients cannot access life-saving imported drugs, even though formally these have been exempt from control, Straw said.

"November’s interim deal agreed in Geneva between Iran and the P5 + 1 (the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, plus Germany) will come into force on Monday. There’s an obvious prize for Iran in ending all sanctions. There is for the UK too." He said, "Above and beyond big trade opportunities, a normalization of relations will have profound benefits, not least in those troubled countries – Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine – where Iran has such influence."

For this time, no deal with Iran does not mean Iran will stay isolated. Rather, it will lead to a ragged erosion of sanctions. Russia and China will pull away. Pressure from European exporters will increase – especially from Italy and Germany, Straw said, adding, "Our Lufthansa flight back from Tehran was full of German business people."