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British Diplomacy and Integrity Questioned

Ambassador John Wilks
British attitudes to both Iraq and Iran have been recently questioned in the person of John Wilks, the United Kingdom’s current ambassador in Baghdad.

Britain remains key ally to the United States and also to Europe. At the moment the country is attempting to steer its way through the Brexit negotiations and to position itself an independent force within the western powers. However, the UK (along with the EU) has also sought to distance itself from some of the full array of US sanctions that President Trump has brought against Iran.

Indeed a recent Voice of America article stated that Britain lobbying hard to obtain ways to continue trade with Iran. The report comments that "British officials have been turning to Japan for tips on how to dodge American sanctions on Iran." It goes on to say that "The British are especially keen to maintain banking links with Iran and to import Iranian oil."

British officials are only too aware of the intertwining of British and Iranian energy interests, since one of the country’s main gas fields in the North Sea are controlled by an alloy of BP and an Iranian state subsidiary.

The US is obviously worried that its closest ally is set on maintaining its Iranian links and attempting to sidestep sanctions. The Voice of America article comments that "Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, cautioned there would be trade consequences for Britain" if the country continues on its alignment with the EU with regard to the sanctions.

Furthermore, in August the Guardian quoted the US ambassador to London as saying that "the UK should join Donald Trump in adopting a hard-line attitude towards Iran."

It has been obvious that the UK is seeking to re-calibrate its position with its one-time key ally from as far back as April, when an article on Global Risks Insights commented that "Now that Britain is actively moving away from the current US administration, and aligning with Europe to honour the nuclear deal, relations with Iran are likely to remain stable despite standing on shaky ground."

Nevertheless, it was extremely surprising that the de facto British/Iranian ‘entente’ was displayed so visibly last week when Britain’s ambassador to Iraq met with his Iranian counterpart in the country to discuss the future of Iraq.  Ambassador John Wilks revealed in a tweet that he met with Iraj Masjedi "for frank discussion about latest developments in Iraq. Agreed next @IraqiGovt had to improve its delivery of services and jobs."

There is surely a great insensitivity at least that British officials are discussing Iraq, its economy and its political future with a third party on Iraqi soil. The meeting does nothing to counter the edifice that Iran is a key power player in Iraq. Indeed, in many ways it legitimises continued Iranian interference in foreign affairs. The response from Iraq’s foreign ministry was surprisingly measured, given the sensitivities. It said that it was ‘surprised’ by John Wilks’ recent tweet.

British diplomacy used to be famous the world over for its sophistication and rectitude. The question posed is, as Britain faces its own internal challenges and seeks to forge new alliances and trade deals around the globe, is it putting its own interests beyond international obligations? Furthermore, how would Britain respond if the US and EU diplomats met on British soil to discuss the future of the UK? Surely Iraq deserves better than to be treated as a supine entity over which world powers preside and collude with its enemies.