European ambassadors feared Iranian lock-in

WikiLeaks exposes officials’ worries of being trapped at Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.

It appears that tactically thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions is not the only concern on the mind of state representatives in managing relations with the Persian nation. A document from the WikiLeaks batch of US cables, dated July 2009, exposes the back-room politics of EU diplomats as they prepared to attend the inauguration of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although prepared to send ambassadors to the ceremony in the Iranian parliament, member states had reportedly agreed to a secret caveat that would see them walk out if the leader crossed the "Durban Red Lines". Any denial of the Holocaust or threats against the State of Israel would trigger leaders' exit from the ceremony.

Despite their best intentions, the leak exposes the concern of members regarding the plan's practicality. Never having entered the building in Tehran where the event was to take place, attendants feared that their lack of territorial knowledge might prevent them from staging a successful escape.

Though threatened by seating layouts, floor plans and aisle widths, diplomats' greatest fear is said to have been the danger that the Iranians would simply lock them in:

They are not sure how they will stage their walkout, logistically, should they need to do so. They are worried that the doors may be locked.

Officials presumably felt that Iran might take its cue from China, who used the "locked-door" tactic to great effect in 2005. After facing hostile questions at a Beijing news conference, President George W Bush attempted to make a hasty exit from the room, only to find his way blocked. His shock and embarrassment at being held awkwardly in the conference has been replayed millions of times online.

The threat of viral videos exposing a stalled diplomatic stampede at the doors of the Iranian parliament would be enough to scare even the most seasoned ambassador. International relations can be a dangerous battlefield, and it is the responsibility of any serious professional to plan not only his strategies, but also his exits.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.