The Grip of History: Norman Lamont on Iran
Norman Lamont - Former UK Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Here's an excerpt from a British panel on Islam and the Middle East, broadcast on the BBC radio program "Any Questions?" in February 2006. The quotes are from former Thatcher cabinet member Norman Lamont, a Conservative who, among other titles, is the director of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. Lamont concludes that the current state of affairs is largely the inevitable result of Britain and America's shameful legacy toward Iran.
Balford Lloyd: Is Iran a threat to peace in the world?
Jonathan Dimbleby (presenter): You have significant dealings with Iran, Lord Lamont.
Norman Lamont: Well I think the idea of Iran getting a nuclear weapon is alarming. I think also President Ahmadinejad of Iran is a rather threatening person because of what he has said. Having said that I think we ought also to understand that there is an Iranian perspective which we don't always see in these matters. The first is that I think Iran actually has a deep sense of insecurity. The history of Iran has been interfered with by foreign countries. They remember how a prime minister, Mossadegh, was removed because he wanted - by the Americans and the British - because he wanted to nationalize oil. They remember above all the Iran-Iraq War in which Iraq with Western weapons invaded them, half a million people died. They're surrounded by countries with nuclear weapons as well.
Second point I would just make about Iran is Iran is not nearly as anti-West, anti-American or as religious as it appears from the members of the government you see on television. After 9/11 there were demonstrations in favor of America in Tehran. President Khatami, the president of Iran at that time, actually made the strongest, most eloquent condemnation I've heard from anybody. Now the one thing I'm certain of is that sanctions will not work and we will find ourselves getting into a situation from which there is no exit. America already has sanctions because of the hostage crisis that maintained them ever since. I think a far better policy in the past would have been if we'd had no sanctions against Iran, we'd encouraged full economic ties, trade with Iran, admitted them to the World Trade Organization. It may now be too late.
I don't think
Iran is going to invade anybody but I think Iran - Iran has been a
major beneficiary of the Iraq War, that is one of the problems which
has emboldened, made them more confident. But I think in the past we
have ostracized them, we have kept them at bay. I think Jack Straw has
handled this very, very well because he's kept a dialogue going and
although we are in a difficult situation I hope that Straw and the
Europeans will still continue to maintain contact and still try to find
a diplomatic solution, even though it is backed up with ultimate
Dimbleby: Two very brief questions. One, do you believe that they do seek to acquire nuclear capability for weaponry rather than energy?
Norman Lamont: I think they do want to have nuclear energy but I think they are - there was a program begun under the Shah but I think they probably do want to develop for the security reasons that I've outlined. And I think the awful thing is you would find that a huge part of the population of Iran agreed with that, I don't think you would find that - they see the West as interfering in their region.
Dimbleby: But do you therefore believe that they represent - you described your perspective - do you believe - to go back to the question as it were in a yes or no - that they do represent a threat - it does represent a threat to world peace or not?
Norman Lamont: I think Iran is a significant power in the region and its power has been increased by the Iraq world, a Shia belt has formed stretching Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon - I don't think they're going to wage an aggressive war against somebody, I really don't believe that, I don't think they will. But they have leverage via Hamas, Hizbollah. I think we do need to continue talking to them. I think unfortunately we are in the grip of history and forces that have put us in this position.