Friday, May 05, 2006

Straw is out as FM: Iran is the reason

Ewen MacAskill, Guardian:
The key to the demotion of Jack Straw from foreign secretary is Iran. Mr Straw for more than a year, in his favourite outlet the BBC Today programme or at various press conferences, said repeatedly a military strike on Iran was inconceivable. Politicians always try to avoid boxing themselves in, but Straw did on this issue: if a military strike had become a serious option, he would have been forced to resign.

He was reflecting the reality of British domestic politics. Against the background of the Iraq debacle, Mr Straw knew it would be difficult to win support for the military option in cabinet and that it would create even more upheaval among the membership of the already weakened Labour party.

The problem for Mr Straw is that Tony Blair does not view Iran the same way. He regards the threat posed by Iran as the most serious in the world today, and is even more messianic on the issue than George Bush. That does not mean that a military strike will happen but Mr Blair, like Mr Bush, thinks it is a good idea to keep the option on the table, if only to keep Iran guessing. READ MORE

Downing Street phoned the Foreign Office several times to ask Mr Straw to stop being so categoric in ruling out a military strike. And the White House also phoned Downing Street to ask why Mr Straw kept saying these things. And that was before Mr Straw dismissed as "nuts" the prospect of a tactical nuclear strike on Iran, an option that Mr Bush subsequently refused to remove from the table.

Margaret Beckett inherits the Iran portfolio. One of her first jobs will be in New York on Monday where she will meet Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state with whom Mr Straw built up such a close relationship, and other counterparts to discuss Iran.

One of the first challenges she will face from the media is to confirm that a military strike is "inconceivable". She is likely to say that a military strike is not being discussed and that she is focused on the diplomatic route. But will she say that a military strike is "inconceivable"?

On other main issue that consumes the time of both the Foreign Office and Downing Street, Iraq, there is likely to be any significant change. There is nothing a foreign secretary can do about Iraq: its fate is in the hands of the new Iraqi government and the insurgents. Britain, like the US, is hoping it can begin to pull out troops before the end of the year.

Ms Rice went out of her way to establish a good relationship with Mr Straw, but she also had a good relationship while she was Mr Bush's national security adviser with Sir David Manning, at the time Mr Blair's foreign affairs adviser, with whom she spoke on a regular, almost daily, basis. There is no reason why Mrs Beckett cannot too establish a close working relationship.