Osborne’s Iran trade plan under fire
CHANCELLOR GEORGE Osborne has come under strong criticism for his decision to lead a business delegation to Iran next year.
British and Israeli researchers say that Mr Osborne is prioritising trade over Iranian human-rights abuses and the ongoing threat the country poses to the Jewish state.
The UK was among six countries that, in July, agreed to lift sanctions against Iran in exchange for checks on its nuclear programme.
At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a “historic mistake” and said that it “paves Iran’s path to the bomb”.
But, last week, Mr Osborne said he would visit Iran if its leaders stood by the agreement.
“Assuming that Iran honours the nuclear deal and it’s properly verified, I think there will be growing potential to do business with Iran,” he said.
“Next year, I would love to lead a proper, economic and trade delegation to Iran.”
The move is likely to be seen as a step towards building relations between the UK and Iran, which holds 9.3 per cent of the world’s oil reserves and 18.2 per cent of the natural gas reserves.
Nuclear scientist Ephraim Asculai, a senior research fellow at the Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies, said that Western leaders were keen to capitalise on Iran’s resources. He said the agreement “gave a chance for the sanctions a chance to be lifted, and for anyone interested to go to Iran and rustle up business.
“The motivation was very complex, but you cannot rule out commerce was not one of the motivations.”
His complaint was echoed by Tom Wilson, a senior research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank.
He said: “This planned visit by Mr Osborne is woefully premature. There will be little incentive for Iran to abide by the agreement once trade ties have become well-established.
“While the Israelis will no doubt be alarmed by these kinds of moves, my sense is that it won’t greatly damage UK-Israel relations. The two countries have too many other shared interests.”
Arieh Miller, executive director of the Zionist Federation, said: “I think a lot of people will feel very uneasy about the prospect of the UK unquestioningly building trade links with Iran.
“Many will wonder how the financial benefits will bolster a theocratic regime opposed to human rights and democracy at home, and the existence of a Jewish state abroad.”
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said: “Significant trade missions merely enable Iran’s bellicose and problematic role in a region already reeling from massive instability.”
A Treasury spokesman said a visit to Iran was not yet confirmed.
Last month, Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed that sanctions could be lifted next spring.