The UK’s former ambassador to the US, Turkey and France, Sir Peter Westmacott, spoke to Sky News about the increasingly tense Iran-USA situation. Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed in an airstrike the US launched in response to the siege of their Baghdad Embassy. The attack has prompted Iran’s Supreme Leader to threaten retaliation for the killing, warning Washington to expect a “crushing revenge” for the death of Iran’s second-most-powerful military commander.
When asked if it was possible to de-escalate the situation now, Sir Peter told Sky: “I see that the E3 and the British Government are saying ‘we will shed no tears for this bad man, but let’s all de-escalate’.
“If you look at the numbers of people on the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, and bearing in mind the culture of sheer martyrdom and the emotion that is there, I think it’s pretty hard for the Iranians not to react in some way to this.
“So de-escalation feels to me a bit like a pious hope rather than a likely outcome.”
BBC Foreign Affairs Editor John Simpson warned that the last time Iran was “affronted” like this, the Lockerbie bombing happened.
Responding to that, the ex-ambassador said: “That’s quite a connection.
“You can look at it the other way. David Petraeus would say maybe, like the accidental shooting down of the Iran Air air bus in 1988, this could lead to de-escalation and the ending of the tanker war.
“You can look at this both ways. I think there would have to be some kind of Iranian response.
“My hunch is that rather than do something that is very high profile and provokes yet another American reaction, there’ll be a degree of plausible deniability and actions which are really annoying and destructive, but perhaps they can’t be formally blamed for doing it.”
Sir Peter continued: “The British government is in a bit of a bind because it doesn’t want to offend America.
“It equally wants to get British dual nationals, like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and she’s not the only one by the way, out of jail in Iran.
“We’ve got our own bilateral issues with Iran, and we want to remain a significant European player, at least on defence and security.”