Liz Truss’ record of pragmatism in politics has not stopped some commentators thinking or hoping she will take a harder line than predecessor Boris Johnson.
In September 2021, Truss, just appointed foreign secretary, sat down quietly with her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly. Truss reportedly assured Amir-Abdollahianthat London was serious about repaying the £400 million debt owed by Britain since the 1970s for undelivered weapons.
Truss had told senior civil servants on promotion to the foreign office days earlier, moved by Prime Minister Boris Johnson from international trade secretary, that her “number one priority” was securing the release of three Britons detained in Iran – Nazanin Zeghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz.
Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Zeghari-Ratcliffe who was freed along with Ashoori March 2002, praised Truss in a July newspaper article. “Despite me camping angrily on her doorstep, and our sometime fractious relationship, she delivered on her promise to us to get Nazanin home,” Ratcliffe wrote. “After five foreign secretaries, that matters. She did the one thing everyone knew would work: she paid the UK’s debt.”
Not everyone was pleased. Mike Pompeo, who as secretary of state under President Donald Trump launched maximum pressure as the US left the 2015 Iran nuclear deal condemned the £400 million ($460 million) payment as “blood money.”
Truss has a long record of pragmatism. President of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats when a student, she was opposed the UK leaving the European Union (EU) during the 2016 referendum but later became a ‘Brexiteer.’
‘Not dealing with a perfect world’
Pressed in a House of Commons committee in June, Truss fielded a question on human rights in the Arab Gulf states. “We are not dealing with a perfect world,” she said. “We are dealing in a world where we have to make difficult decisions…”
As foreign secretary, Truss has worked along with the Biden administration in line with the British and European policy of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Along with French and German counterparts, she has increasingly placed the onus to Iran to make compromises as the talks have become US-Iran contacts, mediated by the European Union, since Vienna multilateral meetings between Iran and six world powers paused in March.
Liz Truss with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on December 11, 2021
Hopes for the talks have risen and fallen in recent weeks. In comments made Monday to reporters in Brussels, Josep Borrell, head of EU foreign policy, said he was “less confident today than 28 hours before on the convergence of the negotiation process,” and that without convergence, “the whole process is in danger.”
Borrell: Nuclear talks ‘in danger’
While France and Germany, and the European Union, may look to Truss to hold the UK’s current position, Monday’s news that Truss had been elected leader of the British Conservative Party and therefore prime minister designate, prompted celebrations among many conservative commentators.
“To leave the past few years of Chamberlain Conservatism and reclaim Churchill’s mantle, Truss must act boldly from day one to break the FCO’s [foreign office] hold on No 10 [the prime minister’s residence],” tweeted Richard Goldberg, senior advisor to the Federation for Defense of Democracies. In calling Johnson an ‘appeaser,’ Goldberg referred to Neville Chamberlain, British prime minister 1937-40, who explored options for stopping Nazi Germany short of war.
‘No need to tread on eggshells’
Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom at Heritage Foundation and frequent contributor to Fox News, wrote August 31 that Truss would challenge the Biden administration over aspects of US foreign policy, “such as its weakness on Iran.” Truss, wrote Gardiner, would “not be afraid to take on the liberal establishment at home and abroad.”
The Daily Telegraph ran a leader August 28 headlined ‘Truss must bloc Iran deal,’ which it said was “likely to offer at best nothing more than a trivial delay to the ayatollahs’ atomic ambitions, even as it unlocks cash likely to fund attacks against the very Western governments which sign up.” With Zeghari-Ratcliffe freed, the paper opined, “there is no need to tread on eggshells.”
Towards the end of the Conservative leadership election, United Against Nuclear Iran speculated in the US that her rival Rishi Sunak’s “domestic emphasis on Britain’s finances might sway him toward a pro-trade rationale and attendant support for the JCPOA…A Sunak government would suggest a continuation of his former boss’s [Boris Johnson] Iran policy: ongoing support for the JCPOA as a ‘least bad’ option to restrain and possibly moderate Iran in the long term.”
Among other JCPOA opponents, Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid congratulated Truss as “my new friend, a true friend of Israeli.” The Jerusalem Post, highlighting Lapid and Truss overlapping as foreign ministers, cited “sources close” to the Israeli prime minister that Truss “has shown an understanding of the threat Tehran poses to the Jewish state and is closer to Israel’s view on Iran’s prevarications in the talks.”