Straw, who led so-called E3 efforts with his German and French counterparts, said he was “hopeful” of a resolution when Iran voluntarily suspended enriching uranium under the 2003 Tehran Declaration and subsequent Paris Agreement in 2004 to allow full negotiations.
“Along with my colleagues we invested lots of time and effort to try to reach agreement, so the fact that it didn’t work is frustrating all around,” the 64-year old Labour MP said .
Straw, who has been a Labour MP for more than 30 years, is one of the most experienced western politicians, who have been involved in directly negotiating with Iran.
Last month, he stepped down from front-line politics after an illustrious career, serving as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, House of Commons leader and Justice Secretary.
“I don’t want to make any allocation of blame” for the failure, Straw said. The aim of the negotiations that also took place in Brussels, Geneva and London was to build up relations and make it easier to reach agreement but “we didn’t.”
“I was hopeful but it was a very difficult issue, Iranian people have the reputation as hard negotiators and I suppose they feel we were too,” he reflected.
During the negotiations, it took the British, German and French Foreign Ministers nearly two years before offering Iran a package of political, trade and nuclear assurances in August 2005.
Straw, who described himself as a “friend” of Iran, accepted that the offer “did take time” but was unwilling to comment further on whether it was “too little, too late” or why the package was widely criticised as an “empty box.”
“I don’t want to go into details. I wish we could have reached agreement, but there is no point in raking over past,” he said. He would, however, eventually be making some “serious reflections” on the saga.
“My view now is that we can take a long time going over past, although we have to learn from the past.”
“It is not a black and white issue why negotiations failed. It is matter of sadness that they did. It is not useful to cast blame,” he told .
Straw refused to be drawn into whether the absence in the negotiations of the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice at the time, was a cause of the failure, but said the US were “indirectly involved in respect of confidence building measures.”
Former US president George W Bush and Rice “towards the end were seized to reach an understanding with Iran,” he insisted. He also welcomed Barack Obama subsequently reaching out to seek accommodation with Iran in his Cairo speech after coming to office last year.
Following the failure of the Paris Agreement, which included written confirmation that Iran was not acquiring nuclear arms, the IAEA decided on a split vote in February 2006, to refer the issue to the UN Security Council, controversially breaking the agency’s consensus convention.
“I would have liked to have made more progress,” Straw said, but by May 2006, he was suddenly replaced by Margate Beckett as foreign secretary amid reports that he was sacked because he opposed US threats to attack Iran.
He acknowledged that he was “aware” of the reports but declined to elaborate, simply saying that he was “moved” at a crucial time. For four years, he said he had been “committed to find a solution.”
Former prime minister Tony Blair denied that Straw was replaced at the behest of the US, but has since admitted in his recent memoirs that his decision to remove him from his post was “plain stupid.”
Straw became the first and remains the only British foreign secretary to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Between 2001 and 2003 he visited Tehran on five occasions, including in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the US.
Last month, he continued his interest in what he said is a “captivating” country by becoming co-chair of the all-party Britain-Iran parliamentary group and is due to lead a delegation of MPs to Tehran next year.
During his interview, Straw was at pains to underline the importance of having respect and building up confidence and understanding in negotiations.
“I worked hard to try to understand not only the issue from the Iranian perspective but also the context in which we were negotiating.” he said.
“It is a grave error if you go into negotiations and think that the perspective of negotiators across the table is just a mirror image of yours because it isn’t.”
He cited numerous instances of Britain’s historic interference in Iran’s internal affairs dating from the revolt over the tobacco monopoly in the 1880s to the UK’s role in the 1953 coup to reinstall the shah in 1953.
Opening an exhibition on Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran at the British Museum last year, Straw said that “the more we understand of Iran, the better it will be for the West's relations with the country and the better we understand ourselves and our shared history.”
Britain's “continuous and apologetic support for the shah long after he lost credibility in the eyes of Iranians” had gravely strained the two countries' relations for the past 30 years, he also said.
The former foreign secretary told IRNA that he read a lot on Iranian history and politics and continued to enjoy its distinguished literature.
With regard to Iran being discriminately singled out over its nuclear programme, he accepted that in contrast Israel has a “clear nuclear capability.”
“They deny it but they do, so let’s be clear about that,” he added. Unlike Iran, he also said that it was not a member of the NPT but rejected inferences that this was permissible as was the case with regard to both India and Pakistan’s nuclear arms capability.
In line with the British government, Straw suggested that the issue of Israel’s nuclear arsenal should only be tackled after resolution to the Middle East conflict.
“People can argue if Israel should have been formed but it was,” he said. He also referred to the “perfidious role of UK” in its creation when reaching secret agreement.
“There was no argument for Israel to pull back from stealing people’s land. In the West Bank, the continued encroachment is terrible,” the former foreign secretary said, distracting away from the issue of Israel’s illegal stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Straw became more outspoken on the Middle East after being replaced as foreign secretary, when unlike Blair, he was critical of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon during the summer of 2006.
Giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry earlier this year, he said he 'very reluctantly' supported the 2003 invasion, adding that it was the 'most difficult decision' of his life and that he had been “haunted” ever since over the claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons.
With talks due to restart with Iran later this month, he repeated that Iran has the “right” to develop civil nuclear power. “There is no doubt about that,” he said but declined to clarify whether the aim was for a permanent suspension of uranium enrichment.
“The vast majority would like to see the circumstance where the nuclear dossier can be resolved that satisfies the international community but respects the dignity of the Iranian public and Iranian government,” he said.
Asked if he would give any advice to 5-1 negotiators, he said that if he did he would “tell them privately.”
Public Relations Office of Iranian parliament has in a statement rejected as baseless Straw’s claim that Speaker Ali Larijani invited him to visit Iran.