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UK-Iran diplomatic row deepens

What happened: UK-Iran tensions increased yesterday when Iran’s Ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, was summoned to the Foreign Office to explain why the UK’s Ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire had been arrested. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK demanded an apology.

  • Late last night Iran doubled down on its decision to arrest Macaire with a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement that: “Strongly condemned the British ambassador’s unlawful and unprofessional measure and his suspicious attendance at a gathering in Tehran… Any new British mistake will face Iran’s harsh and proportionate reaction.”
  • Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The most important thing now is that tensions in the region calm down.” On the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal, the Prime Minister said “If we are going to get rid of it, we need something to replace it” and urged US President Trump to work with him to “get the Trump deal instead.”
  • It was reported yesterday that arrests have been made over the shooting down of Ukraine Airlines Flight 752 in Iran. In a televised speech President Hassan Rouhani said “it was an unforgivable error” and  his government is “accountable to Iranian and other nations who lost lives in the plane crash.”

Context: Mass protests broke out across Iran to express discontent with the regime for shooting down the Ukrainian airliner with so many Iranians on board, and for lying about what happened for days.

  • The subsequent admission of responsibility has exposed tensions between the IRGC and President Rouhani which have been exacerbated by the killing of Qassem Solemaini who was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s most trusted advisor on security issues.
  • In a recording published by Iranian opposition site Pyk Net a commander in the IRGC appeared to complain about the actions of the Iranian government. He criticised the statement admitting responsibility for shooting down the airliner for blaming “the entire Revolutionary Guard.”

Looking ahead: The Iranian regime is in damage limitation mode, attempting to contain popular unrest and manage an international outcry after shooting down the Ukrainian airliner.

  • For many Iranians desperate for answers about the why their relatives and friends had died, the regime’s decision to lie for three days and to deploy state media to reinforce its version of events, was a wake-up call that revealed the lengths the regime was willing to go to protect itself.
  • The UK and Iran are engaged in an escalating war of words but PM Johnson’s interview this morning was more conciliatory, calling for reduced tensions but at the same time looking beyond the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and calling on President Trump to present a new deal that encompasses nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and Iran’s nefarious military activity in the Middle East.