Middle East

Ex-U.K. foreign minister Straw visiting Iran

FILE - This is a Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 file photo of former British Foreign Secretary and Justice Secretary, Jack Straw as he arrives at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London for the Iraq Inquiry. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)

LONDON: Former British foreign minister Jack Straw was leading a delegation of lawmakers to Iran on Monday, his office said, as London and Tehran sought to improve diplomatic relations.

The visit by opposition Labour party MP Straw comes two months after Britain and Iran named non-resident envoys, restoring ties which were severed in 2011 after Iranian protesters stormed and ransacked the British embassy in Tehran.

Straw, 67, was foreign secretary under prime minister Tony Blair as Britain went to war in Iraq in 2003. He has repeatedly called for engagement with Iran to end the crisis over its nuclear programme.

Straw will be accompanied by Conservative former finance minister Norman Lamont, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Conservative lawmaker Ben Wallace, his office said in a statement.

They travelled to Tehran on Monday and were due to return to Britain on Friday.

The British MPs, who are all members of a cross-party British parliamentary group on Iran, had accepted an invitation from the British/Iran Friendship Group of the Iranian parliament, Straw's office said.

"It is hoped that whilst in Tehran the group will be able to make arrangements for a return delegation from the Majlis (Iranian parliament) to visit the UK," the statement said.

Britain's Foreign Office had been "very helpful in facilitating the visit," it added.

Britain shut its Tehran embassy after the November 2011 attack on it by protesters demonstrating against Western sanctions. The storming of the British diplomatic mission, televised live on Iranian state television, also led London to order Iran's embassy closed.

But relations have improved since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August and Iran signed a landmark deal with major powers in November aimed at allaying concerns over its nuclear ambitions.

London and Tehran each named a non-resident charge d'affaires -- one step below ambassador -- in November and the diplomats have since exchanged visits.

Straw was one of only three people to serve in the cabinet throughout the Labour administrations of 1997 to 2010 under Blair and Gordon Brown.

He was interior minister from 1997 to 2001 and foreign minister from 2001 to 2006 during which he was a staunch supporter of the Iraq invasion. In 2004 he held talks with his Iranian counterpart about Tehran's nuclear programme on the sidelines of an international conference in Egypt.

Straw announced last October that he would step down as an MP at Britain's 2015 general election





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