British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Monday he believed in Iranian’s genuine desire to “turn a page” with the West and develop better ties.
Hammon spoke at the end of a two-day visit to Tehran and a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to mark the reopening of the two nations’ respective embassies after a break of several years.
While he stressed that the countries’ relations remained complex and difficult, he said Iran as a regional power was too important to ignore on Middle East issues.
“It’s hard to see what is the point of advocating dialog with someone who you know has a very different view of the world from you, unless you are anticipating some give and take,” he said, according to the UK’s Telegraph.
He added that the visit had changed his view of the Islamic republic.
“I suspect that I, like many people in Britain and the West, will have had an image of Iran as a desperately theocratic, deeply religious society motivated by ideology,” she said. “What I’ve seen is a perfectly normal, bustling, dynamic, entrepreneurial, thrusting, middle income developing world city, which has clearly enormous potential. You only need to look at it to see the enormous potential.”
Of the regime, he added: “I don’t get the impression of a population cowed by authority. It’s a much more bustling, dynamic place than I had expected — a much more diverse place than I had expected — and the message I’m getting from our interlocutors is that they do want to see the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions as an opportunity to turn a page. That doesn’t mean we can wipe out history — and in particular some very difficult history between Britain and Iran. But it does mean we can agree to draw a line and move on.”
Hammond cautioned, however, that progress would likely be slow.
“We have come a long way but let’s walk first and try to run later,” he said.
During his meeting with Rouhani Hammond said the sides agreed on the need to defeat the Islamic State group, and to stop opium from Afghanistan reaching Europe.
Hammond told the BBC that “Iran is too large a player, too important a player in this region, to simply leave in isolation.”
Rouhani for his part said that world powers will eventually look back at last month’s nuclear deal as a wise precursor to better relations with the Islamic Republic.
“The negotiating parties will realize in the future that interaction rather than confrontation with Iran was the right approach,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying.
“We consider this agreement as the start of a move toward creating a better situation in international and regional relations,” he added.
Hammond is the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran since Jack Straw in 2003.
European officials have been swift in heading to Iran since July 14, when the nuclear accord with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States was announced in Vienna.
Iran’s leaders deny international allegations that they seek to develop a nuclear weapon, but critics of the deal, among them Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claim that Iran’s intentions are anything but friendly.