Oman, Uae and Iran

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 11th December 2017.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 5:30 pm, 11th December 2017

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving me advance sight of his statement. I also thank him for the obvious efforts that he has put in over recent days on these issues, which are of such great concern to this House and beyond.

Let us start, as we must, with the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I have no wish to go over old ground concerning the Foreign Secretary’s remarks to the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is right that he has finally apologised for those remarks and admitted that he was wrong. It is also right that he has finally met Richard Ratcliffe, and that he has spent the weekend in the region attempting to atone for his mistake and get Nazanin released. We welcome the tentative progress that the Foreign Secretary has made in that regard. As Richard Ratcliffe himself put it,

“it doesn’t change the fundamentals but it makes the change in the fundamentals more likely.”

I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary cannot give a running commentary, but I should like to ask him two specific questions on this issue. First, did he seek meetings during his visit with representatives of the revolutionary courts, the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Justice? In other words, did he seek to meet those who, in Richard Ratcliffe’s words, have the power to “change the fundamentals” in Nazanin’s case? Indeed, did he seek a meeting with Nazanin herself while he was there? Secondly, in the Foreign Secretary’s meetings with President Rouhani and others, did he make it perfectly clear to them personally that his comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which were widely publicised in the Iranian state media, had been mistaken?

Turning to the Iran nuclear deal, we welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary raised this issue, and he spoke for all of us in reassuring Iran that whatever other bilateral differences we may face, Britain will continue to honour our part in the nuclear deal as long as Iran continues to do the same. But of course, that is not where the real problem lies. As with so much else, the real problem lies in the White House. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what the plan is now? What is the plan in relation to persuading President Trump to see sense and stop his senseless assault on the Iran deal? What is the plan to get President Trump back on board? Or is this yet another area in which the Government are forced to concede that they have no influence to wield?

Turning to Yemen, we welcome the fact that, as well as visiting Teheran, the Foreign Secretary visited Abu Dhabi and Oman and raised the issue of Yemen there as well. While we welcome the talks, we are bound yet again to ask the question: what is the plan now? What is the plan to get the blockades fully lifted and enable full access for humanitarian relief? What is the plan to secure a ceasefire agreement and make progress towards long-term political solutions? And where is the plan for a new United Nations Security Council resolution, 14 months since the UK first circulated its draft?

Last week, the UN Security Council cancelled its scheduled open meeting on Yemen, and instead held one in private. Britain’s representative, Jonathan Allen, said that a closed doors session was needed so that

“Council members could have a frank conversation”.

We appreciate that the best progress is often made behind closed doors, but the people of Yemen have been waiting for two years for any kind of progress and for any sort of hope of an end to the war and to their suffering. Instead, things just get worse and worse. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that people are tired of hearing that progress is being made behind the scenes, when things are getting ever worse on the ground? In the wake of his talks this weekend, in the wake of his meetings with the Quint, and in the wake of last week’s closed Security Council session, will he now spell out what the plan is for peace?

I am sure that many other regional security issues were discussed on the Foreign Secretary’s trip, from the tensions with Saudi Arabia to President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, but may I ask specifically what conclusions he reached from his discussions on the prospects for a political solution to end the fighting in Syria? Is Iran ready to accept, as an outcome of the Astana process, that it will withdraw its forces from Syria, and will Hezbollah and the Shi’a militias do likewise, provided that President Assad is left in place, that all coalition forces are withdrawn, and that Syria is given international assistance with its reconstruction? If that is the case, will the UK Government accept that deal, despite the Foreign Secretary’s repeated assertion that President Assad has no place in the future government of Syria? If they will not accept that deal, will the Foreign Secretary tell us when it comes to the future of Syria, as on everything else that we have discussed today, what is his plan now?