Britain’s new foreign secretary, James Cleverly, appointed today by new prime minister Liz Truss, held the Middle East brief at the foreign office 2020-22.

As minister of state for the Middle East, Africa and North America until February, Cleverly has direct experience of dealing with Iran. Three months after President Ebrahim Raisi took office, Cleverly met November 2021 in London with Ali Bagheri Kani, a deputy Iranian foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator.“The new government coming in did give us an opportunity to reset,” Cleverly told Sky News later, in March 2022.

While Cleverly said immediately after the meeting he had urged Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, his meeting with Bagheri-Kani seems to have centered on detained dual British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zeghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori. Families of the detainees and many analysts refused to believe claims by both Tehran and London that the detentions were not formally linked to Britain’s failure to honor a £400 million ($460 million) debt owed Iran for failure to deliver weapons in the 1970s that Tehran had paid for up front.

James Cleverly arrives at Number 10 Downing Street, in London, September 6, 2022

On the release of Zeghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori in March 2022, Cleverly, still a minister of state but no longer covering the Middle East, said talks had been “incredibly difficult” and that London had taken “every precaution” that the £400 million would be used for ‘humanitarian’ purposes.

"There was a legal decision which went against the UK, and we abide by that legal decision, but there were practical difficulties,” Cleverly said. “You can't just write a cheque because of all those sanctions, because of all those counter-terrorism and counter-money laundering laws.”

He floated the idea that the talks over the debt repayment and prisoner release could set a wider precedent: “I would hope that Iran sees that a shift in their behavior can bring about positive changes, but ultimately, they are the ones responsible for this. And if they were to change their behavior, then the international posture towards them could be reviewed.”

Cleverly also insisted that Britain was working hard to secure the release of a third detainee in Iran, Morad Tahbaz, who holds US as well as British and Iranian nationality.

While some commentators have suggested Liz Truss may take a harder line towards Iran than her predecessor Boris Johnson, Truss’ long record of pragmatism suggests she may try to maintain a common approach with the Biden administration, France, and Germany. Cleverly, a strong Truss supporter who first joined the cabinet in only 2019 and currently education secretary, seems a ready ally in such an approach.

G4 Protest Special - Evening (12\')
News (28\')
Economics Daily

Share your story

Send your Videos and Photos to us