February 19, 2016
The retiring British ambassador to Washington says he had hard time lobbying Congress for the nuclear deal with Iran as a number of congressmen accused him of meddling in American business while having no problem with the lobbying of the Israeli prime minister.
In an interview with The Telegraph of Britain, Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott said he had to insist congressmen listen to their “closest allies” as much as the Israeli prime minister.
“There were people who gave me a real hard time saying, ‘How dare you interfere in our domestic politics?” he said. “They said, ‘It’s none of your damn business’.
“I had to say rather firmly, ‘Well, it is part of my damn business, because my government is a signatory of the agreement. And, by the way, since you seem to think it’s perfectly legitimate for the prime minister of Israel to lobby directly the US Congress against the agreement, I don’t understand why your closest allies involved in the deal shouldn’t have a say.”
Westmacott, who is married to an Iranian, retired last month and the couple has returned to England.
For decades, from Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt through Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush, there was never any question that Britain was the closest ally of the United States. But under Prime Minister David Cameron that relationship seems to have dimmed, primarily because he has dialed down Britain’s international role. The United States now appears closer to Germany and even France, not due to any frictions with Britain, but just due to its lesser role by choice.
Westmacott was a guest on many American news shows where questioners complained that Britain was a “shrinking power” and even had “resigned” from the world.
Things came to a head, however, over the Iran deal. Westmacott took a lead role in organizing the effort of the British, French and German embassies to lobby the US Congress for the nuclear agreement. It was his job to argue with congressmen who were saying the Congress should scuttle the Obama deal so a better one could be negotiated. The ambassadors said their countries thought this was the best deal to be had and would go ahead with it if the United States dropped out.
“I spoke to individuals whom I knew personally and would say, ‘Look; there is this Iran thing. It’s not just about the United States’,” Westmacott said. “If your intention is to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, this is actually the best way of doing that.”
The Iran vote was undoubtedly a high point of his time in the job. It was a mirror image of probably the low point—when the House of Commons voted down the Cameron-Obama joint plan for Syria and refused to have Britain do anything on Syria.
Whether Westmacott has fully restored the “special relationship” remains to be seen, but he said his relationship with the president became friendly enough for them to share some jokes—particularly after his Iran intervention. “When I told him I was leaving, he turned to me with that flash of a smile and said, ‘Well, Peter, we’re going to miss your wife’.”
His wife, Susie, is the sister of Hassan Nemazee who is serving 12 1/2 years in prison for fraud in his investment business. He is at the federal penitentiary in Otisville, New York, with a release date of February 6, 2021.