The British position

The new British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is on her first trip to Washington and earlier today delivered a speech that was noticeable for only glancing at Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Instead, Beckett concentrated on the failing Doha Round—she said we are “in danger of sleepwalking over a precipice”—and climate change. But before too many ...

607948_Beckettsss_05.jpg
607948_Beckettsss_05.jpg

The new British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is on her first trip to Washington and earlier today delivered a speech that was noticeable for only glancing at Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Instead, Beckett concentrated on the failing Doha Round—she said we are "in danger of sleepwalking over a precipice"—and climate change. But before too many Americans laud the broader understanding of world affairs that foreigners have, I should point out that the emphasis of the speech was probably as much a product of Beckett's background as trade and then environment minister as it was of principle. It was like a clever student facing an exam question they hadn't prepared for by smartly weaving all their other knowledge into the answer. This is unsurprising considering that she has only been in the post for a little over two months and hadn't been preparing herself for the role. Indeed, her first reaction when Blair offered her the job was to exclaim "F***!"

In a Q&A session with journalists afterward, Beckett addressed the more immediate issues of the day. She said there was "no intention" of attacking Iran, which leaves a lot more wiggle room than her predecessor Jack Straw’s "inconceivable" rhetoric - a major part of the reason she has the job. She bemoaned that the Iranians are saying there are ambiguities in the offer without specifying what they are. She poured cold water on the idea that there's a "huge democratic dialogue" in Tehran about the offer. She also had to face a barrage of questions about the extradition of three British businessmen to the United States. Opposition politicians and the British press are riled up about the case because the men are being extradited under a treaty that the Senate has yet to ratify. To many, it has come to represent all the inequities in the special relationship and Beckett said she intended to urge the Senate to move on ratification. Appeasing the bruised feelings of an ally would be a far better use of the Senate's time than voting on hopeless and pointless constitutional amendments. 

The new British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is on her first trip to Washington and earlier today delivered a speech that was noticeable for only glancing at Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Instead, Beckett concentrated on the failing Doha Round—she said we are “in danger of sleepwalking over a precipice”—and climate change. But before too many Americans laud the broader understanding of world affairs that foreigners have, I should point out that the emphasis of the speech was probably as much a product of Beckett’s background as trade and then environment minister as it was of principle. It was like a clever student facing an exam question they hadn’t prepared for by smartly weaving all their other knowledge into the answer. This is unsurprising considering that she has only been in the post for a little over two months and hadn’t been preparing herself for the role. Indeed, her first reaction when Blair offered her the job was to exclaim “F***!”

In a Q&A session with journalists afterward, Beckett addressed the more immediate issues of the day. She said there was “no intention” of attacking Iran, which leaves a lot more wiggle room than her predecessor Jack Straw’s “inconceivable” rhetoric – a major part of the reason she has the job. She bemoaned that the Iranians are saying there are ambiguities in the offer without specifying what they are. She poured cold water on the idea that there’s a “huge democratic dialogue” in Tehran about the offer. She also had to face a barrage of questions about the extradition of three British businessmen to the United States. Opposition politicians and the British press are riled up about the case because the men are being extradited under a treaty that the Senate has yet to ratify. To many, it has come to represent all the inequities in the special relationship and Beckett said she intended to urge the Senate to move on ratification. Appeasing the bruised feelings of an ally would be a far better use of the Senate’s time than voting on hopeless and pointless constitutional amendments. 

Finally, she confirmed that, unlike her predecessor, she wouldn’t be trying to persuade Rice to come and sample the delights of her part of England. But then again today is her first meeting with Rice outside of formal talks. If Rice can create with a hard-bitten political veteran like Beckett the kind of relationship she had with Straw, then Condi is truly something special. 

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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