“What I’ve seen is a perfectly normal, bustling, dynamic, entrepreneurial, thrusting, middle income developing world city, which has clearly enormous potential; not a regimented, disciplined society under the thumb of the authority. You only need to look at it to see the enormous potential.” The British papers The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian quoted Hammond as saying after meeting the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani on Monday.
Hammond arrived in Iran on Sunday at a two-day trip during which he re-opened the Britain embassy after a four-year closure.
Mr Hammond added that his own view of Iran was changed during the trip to Tehran, the first by a British Foreign Secretary since 2003
“I suspect that I, like many people in Britain and the West, will have had an image of Iran as a desperately theocratic, deeply religious society motivated by ideology,”
“I don’t get the impression of a population cowed by authority,” Hammond said.
“It’s a much more bustling, dynamic place than I had expected – a much more diverse place than I had expected – and the message I’m getting from our interlocutors is that they do want to see the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions as an opportunity to turn a page. That doesn’t mean we can wipe out history – and in particular some very difficult history between Britain and Iran. But it does mean we can agree to draw a line and move on.”
He added: “One of the things that struck me most was that our police escorts as they’ve driven us around the city have struggled to persuade Iranian motorists and motorcyclists to do their bidding. I don’t get the impression of a population cowed by authority.”
Iran’s longstanding hostility towards Britain had softened, argued Hammond: “I also detect a change in the approach, the language, the rhetoric around the UK. I sense we are seen now more as part of Europe … and less of the imperial Britain of the past with its legacy of involvement in Iran and the region.”
Mr Hammond cautioned that it was “difficult to say what degree of flexibility Iran will display”, but argued that Mr Rouhani’s decision to improve relations with Britain was, in itself, evidence that Iran could be flexible. “It’s hard to see what is the point of advocating dialogue with someone who you know has a very different view of the world from you, unless you are anticipating some give and take,” he said.