Britain’s top diplomat said Monday that Iran is a major regional player that can be an ally in fighting terrorism — but the UK must “tread carefully” in its relationship with Tehran.
Tehran and world powers struck a deal last month on Iran’s contested nuclear program, and on Sunday Britain and Iran reopened their respective embassies after a break of several years.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, said the two countries shared common ground despite a “deep legacy of distrust.”
He said they 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.
Meanwhile, energy conglomerate Royal Dutch Shell has said that it will consider investing in the Islamic Republic and will repay a $2 billion debt to Iran’s national oil company as soon as the sanctions regime is repealed, Reuters reported.
“When sanctions are removed we will look to examine possible options to work in Iran,” Edward Daniels, Shell’s executive vice-president for commercial and new business development said.
Representatives from Shell joined British officials in Tehran to renew economic ties between the two states, meeting with Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh and Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif.
“Iran is and will be an important potential business area but of course it will have to rank with other projects that we have across the world — so yes it is a very large player in oil and gas reserves but projects need to make economic sense for our company,” Daniels said.
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.