British MPs head for Iran amid thaw in relations

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TEHRAN: A delegation of British lawmakers led by former foreign minister Jack Straw arrived in Tehran on Tuesday amid moves by Iran and Britain to restore diplomatic ties, Iranian media reported.

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The visit by the four MPs comes two months after Britain and Iran named non-resident envoys to re-establish ties severed in 2011 after hardline Islamists ransacked the British embassy compound in Tehran.

No meeting was scheduled with President Hassan Rouhani during the four-day visit, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham.

Straw has strongly advocated rapprochement with Tehran since Rouhani took office in August, arguing that his presidency offers an opportunity to resolve concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions that the West must seize.

Straw was involved in intensive negotiations with Rouhani in the early 2000s when the two men were respectively foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator.

Those talks led to Iran agreeing to suspend its enrichment of uranium and open its nuclear facilities to spot checks. The deal was later overturned by parliament.

In Tehran, Straw is scheduled to hold talks with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and parliamentary foreign affairs committee chief Aladin Borujerdi, Afkham told reporters.

Straw, a veteran MP of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, served as foreign minister under prime minister Tony Blair when Britain went to war in Iraq in 2003. He has repeatedly called for engagement with Iran to end the decade-long crisis over its nuclear drive.

Straw is accompanied by Conservative former finance minister Norman Lamont, fellow Labor MP Jeremy Corbyn and Conservative lawmaker Ben Wallace, his office said.

They hope to arrange a reciprocal visit to London by Iranian lawmakers, it added.

Britain shut its Tehran embassy after a November 2011 attack on the compound by protesters demonstrating against Western sanctions, and ordered Iran’s embassy in London closed.

But relations have improved since Rouhani took office and Iran signed a landmark deal with major powers in November aimed at allaying concerns over its nuclear ambitions.

London and Tehran each named a non-resident charge d’affaires—one step below ambassador—in November and the diplomats have since exchanged visits.

AFP

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