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I note what my right hon. Friend has said, but I am sure that he would not expect me to comment on that in discussion of a Bill which enables the Government to take the power to impose economic sanctions. We regard this as a major step, and we would regard any extension of this step as a very grave matter indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear on 27 April.
In opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office described the steps which our American allies have taken following the seizure of the hostages more than six months ago, on 4 November. Wherever they have argued their case, they have won the argument. The International Court of Justice at The Hague ordered the release of the hostages. In the Security Council two resolutions condemning the Iranian action and calling for the release of the hostages were passed in December, and a third, which would have imposed sanctions, was defeated in January only by the Russian use of the veto.
The truth is that, in seizing the American embassy and the hostages, the Iranian Government have breached the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, and far from protecting the United States diplomats on their territory, as they were bound to do, they have connived at their seizure and their subsequent detention. The justice of the American case was best underlined by President Bani-Sadr, of all people, during the recent seizure of the Iranian embassy in London, when he reminded us of our obligations to the London hostages and pointed out very forcefully to Her Majesty's Government they were under exactly the same duty as his Government were choosing to ignore. His own reaction was further evidence of the seriousness of the offence which has been committed against the United States and its citizens.
I think that from all quarters of the House tonight we have had confirmation of the fact that, whatever else we disagree about, we are united in deploring this appalling and regrettable seizure. It is indefensible. There is no argument, therefore, either at the International Court or within the international Community, or, indeed, in the House of Commons, that a serious offence has been committed and that prolonged diplomatic efforts over a period of months have failed to produce an answer.
In her statement to the House of 14 April, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
The Americans have asked us to consider a wide range of measures. These include applying the economic sanctions that the Russians vetoed at the United Nations in January."—[Official Report, 14 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 791.]
A similar request was made to all the United States' major allies.
It was against that background, therefore, that the Foreign Ministers of the EEC met on 22 April in Luxembourg and decided on a course of action, to be taken in two stages. First, there was to be immediate political action such as the introduction of visas, the reducing of Iranian embassy staff and an embargo on arms sales. Those were the first immediate political steps to be taken. The Iranians were warned that unless they changed their ways a further step would be taken. A commitment was made to economic sanctions based on the vetoed Security Council resolution of 13 January. All the countries of the Community committed themselves to taking the necessary powers by 17 May. I stress that that decision was unanimous.
I should like to deal immediately with the rather cynical suggestions which have emerged from various quarters of the House that our allies are not to be trusted in taking this decision. There are no grounds for making that assertion. The Government, in concert with their allies, have committed themselves to taking the powers to impose sanctions. Other Governments have confirmed that they will do the same. A unanimous decision was taken by the Foreign Ministers. The commitment was confirmed in the communique following the meeting of European Heads of Government, attended by our own Prime Minister. Again, the decision on that occasion was unanimous. Therefore, at Foreign Minister and Heads of Government level, members of the EEC have pledged themselves by 17 May to have the power to enforce the economic sanctions envisaged by the vetoed Security Council resolution of January.