In Iran the British call the shots with the US

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In Iran the British call the shots with the US
Sunday Telegraph
Sometimes you can't grasp a concept unless it comes in the shape of a parable. Our ambassador in Teheran explained to me that if it rained at a local football match, one Iranian would turn to the other and say: "Typical piece of British work!" In a few short words, I got it: Iran's memory of Britain's involvement in the country's history is much more vivid than I realised. We are seen as being the shot-caller for the Americans and, above all else, Albion is perfidious in everything she does. While that may not be the greatest reputation to have, it does mean that we can exert real influence in Iran and punch above our weight.

A series of meetings I had recently with Iranian government officials opened my eyes still further. First, they refused to admit that their nuclear programme was for anything but benign civil purposes; yet they still posed the rhetorical question that if they could produce a bomb, why shouldn't they? Everybody else has, they said, and they, unlike us, had actually felt the effects of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The thousands of casualties that the Iran-Iraq war caused is a vivid memory that is not going to slip out of the public mind.

One of the by-products of the Islamic revolution and the Iraq war was the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps: the elite paramilitary force that is loyal to the religious leaders rather than President Ahmadinejad.

Again, it was difficult to understand this concept, until I talked to our taxi driver. He did not carry his 45 years easily, nor the Iraqi shrapnel in his left leg, but eight years as a cabbie in Reading meant conversation was relatively easy. Smiling, polite and affable, he surprised me when he said that he was a former Revolutionary Guard and that he was ready to face any of Iran's enemies again. International sanctions against Iran would just make his people all the more stubborn he said, "just like the Blitz".

The government officials went even farther. They asked me why Britain had signally failed to control the opium crop in Afghanistan, the poison of which was leaking into their overwhelmingly youthful society. Next, if we were serious about the "war on terror", why were we prepared to treat with the Taliban? Last summer's uneasy "truce" in Helmand had done nothing to dispel Iranian concerns about British chicanery.

Similarly, it perplexed Iranian officials that British MPs could publicly back internationally proscribed organisations such as the People's Mujahedin of Iran. In Teheran, our supporting the PMOI is as difficult to understand as American backing for the IRA through Noraid.

So, if we are going to avoid President Bush's latest talk of a nuclear holocaust and Teheran's riposte that she will fill the power vacuum left by Iraq, how are we going to set about it?

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