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Middle East Minister James Cleverly summed up the UK’s policy towards Iran on 3 November 2020 in the House of Commons:

Our priority remains to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, to promote stability and security in the region, to secure the release of all our dual national detainees, and to keep the diplomatic door open for a new talks with Iran.

JCPOA nuclear deal

The UK was one of the instigators of the process that led to the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. The Government was disappointed by the US departure from the deal and has continued to work with EU allies to keep the JCPOA alive.

On the Iran nuclear deal, the President elect’s policy aligns with UK policy:

Tehran must return to strict compliance with the deal. If it does so, I would rejoin the agreement and use our renewed commitment to diplomacy to work with our allies to strengthen and extend it…

Re-assembling the JCPOA is fraught with difficulty, however. Illustrating the difficulties, leading Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated on 27 November. There is widespread speculation that Israel carried out the operation with the knowledge of the US and Saudi governments, perhaps in order to provoke Iran into a retaliation that could justify an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Such a chain of events would make rejuvenating the Iranian nuclear deal next to impossible.

UN conventional arms embargo

The UN conventional arms embargo on Iran expired on 18 October 2020 as part of the agreed moves in the nuclear deal. When in August the US proposed extending the arms embargo indefinitely, France, Germany and the UK tried to find a compromise in the UN Security Council without success. The UK abstained on the US draft resolution “because it was clear that it would not attract the support of the Council.” The Middle East Minister added on 9 November that the US had withdrawn from the JCPOA:

We cannot therefore support the US’ action, which is incompatible with our current efforts to support the JCPoA. We remain committed to the JCPoA and have always said we regret the US’ withdrawal from the deal.

Other European countries followed suit; in the end only the US and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

Stability in the region

The UK Government is “concerned at Iran’s destabilising behaviour” in the Middle East and, along with the EU, maintains over 200 sanctions listings against Iran, both trade sanctions and sanctions targeted at individuals (including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, IRGC).

An EU arms embargo and UN ballistic missile restrictions on Iran remain in place, as do other UN embargoes on the transfer of weapons, for example to Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi militia groups and the Houthis in Yemen. These militias have been supported by the IRGC.

Dual nationality detainees

Several dual UK/Iranian nationals are detained in Iran. Asked on 3 November 2020 about the new charges levelled against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Government said: “We are deeply concerned that Iran has issued new charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe”. Middle East Minister James Cleverly said that the UK had asked to be allowed to attend any court hearings; the Government had summoned the Iranian Ambassador and the UK Foreign Secretary had spoken to his Iranian counterpart several times recently.

Press reports in September 2020 suggested that the UK was trying to pay off an acknowledged debt owed to Iran over an order for Chieftain tanks placed by the Shah of Iran before the 1979 revolution. The reason for the non-payment, according to the Government, was that a court had frozen the money because of the sanctions regime.

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