Iran

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 27th February 2007.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin 11:00 am, 27th February 2007

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in what is an important and timely debate on this subject.

When one talks to most people about their views on Iran outside the current nuclear context, one will hear about an ancient nation with proud traditions, an impressive history of innovation and commerce and a land of scientists and superior artisans in almost every discipline. One will also hear about the great intellectual capacity of the Iranian people and their desire for learning and knowledge. One needs only to look at the Iranian diaspora in the United Kingdom to see how Iranian people benefit communities throughout our country, let alone the rest of the world.

Here in the capital, the national health service benefits every day from the expertise of Iranian doctors and consultants, and UK universities enjoy the learning and knowledge of esteemed Iranian academics. The contribution of the Iranian people not only to their own well-being, but to that of other nations, whatever their ethnic and religious background, is a contribution of which the Iranian people can be rightly proud.

That is why the nuclear stand-off between the Iranian regime of President Ahmadinejad and the international community is a potential tragedy not only for all those people who might have to suffer the consequences of miscalculation, sliding to war or to precipitous action, but for the Iranian people themselves. The international community's quarrel is not with the people of Iran—the university student wanting to better themselves, the Iraq-Iran war veteran selling his merchandise in the marketplaces of downtown Tehran or even the imam calling his worshippers to Friday prayers—but with the intransigent and inflexible views of President Ahmadinejad. By seeking to pursue Iran's reprocessing uranium enrichment programme, he puts Iran on a collision course not only with countries such as the United States, but with allies of Iran such as Russia.

President Ahmadinejad's apocalyptic rhetoric may excite certain elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but it does not do anything to address the serious economic plight in which many ordinary Iranians find themselves. The President was elected on a popular mandate of wanting to represent ordinary Iranians and to address their economic woes and struggles. Therefore, if he is serious about his commitment, he should spend more time getting Iran's 3 million unemployed back into work, securing the border with Afghanistan and closing down the opiate trail, setting up drug rehabilitation and education centres for Iran's 1.5 million drug addicts, treating the tens of thousands of Iranians with HIV and AIDS, building new schools, roads and hospitals and preparing Iran's cities for future geological earthquakes, not military earthquakes.

Iranians are right to ask why, when their economy is in such a state, President Ahmadinejad is spending billions of dollars on developing long-range ballistic missiles or on sending rockets to space. The people of Iran do not need me to tell them that there is no bread on the moon. It is also legitimate for senior army officers to question why ballistic missile programmes grow at the expense of Iran's ageing and decaying conventional forces, and why the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has a seamless flow of funds, but the army is squeezed out of updating even basic military equipment. Iranian admirals are also right to protest at the President's private IRGC navy.

It is also right that Iranian MPs should be concerned about recent municipal elections—those MPs who got into power on the back of the President's claims about wanting to help those who suffer economically. Those Members of Parliament who follow him are right to be concerned about the recent elections.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case. Will he also acknowledge, however, that in the elections that returned President Ahmadinejad, and in the assembly elections at the same time, the Guardian Council disqualified some 200 candidates from standing—candidates who had been members of the Majlis and tended to be reformist and out of sync with the regime?

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He always does, and he is absolutely right to put that point on the record. However, encouragingly, it emerged from the results that the more moderate candidates who support the former President, President Rafsanjani, also gained seats. My hon. Friend is right none the less: the selection of candidates must be more open and democratic to ensure that there is a real mix of Members of Parliament who represent all views. Further, with parliamentary elections upcoming in 2008, it is right that there should be an internal inquiry about President Ahmadinejad's rhetoric.

It is right that Iran's national bazaar, its business people and business sector, should be worried about the growing and extending influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps over the country's economic affairs. Should—I emphasise "should"—Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania move towards an economic bloc, I think that the Iranian people would be embarrassed. When countries in east Africa move towards trading blocs, concentrating more on the economy than on war, and when Latin American countries do the same, there is no reason why there should not be a future in which economic blocs in the middle east bring similar prosperity and hope to the people of Iran.

It is also puzzling—no doubt more so for the people of Iran—that although crude oil prices have been at a long-term high, the oil boom that should have happened on the back of it in Iran has not. However, there is no reason why a change of course cannot put right an economic missed opportunity.

It is also right that Iran's learned and esteemed Islamic scholars and clerics should ask why President Ahmadinejad claims to speak to the hidden imam. Even the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, did not lay claim to such divine encounters. In fact, claims of exclusive revelation are also an affront to the current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and undermine the very teachings of the Assembly of Experts. Perhaps that is why President Ahmadinejad seeks to place his own clerics on the Assembly of Experts and on the Council of Guardians.

There is a great paradox in the Iranian question: perhaps the greatest threat to Islam and to Iran's continuation as an Islamic regime is not from external forces, but from internal forces that claim a superior and unique interpretation of Islam. It was Ayatollah Khomeini himself who rightly observed that without the existence of an Islamic state, the existence of Islamic law could be lost.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Ayatollah Khameni said in August last year:

"There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state"?

Putting that statement together with the President's statement that he wishes to wipe Israel off the map, and with 50 other such statements from Iran's leaders in the past year, does the hon. Gentleman think that it could be seen as incitement to genocide?

L

Get your facts straight. Here is the actual translation... "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" Word by word translation: Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from...

Submitted by Leigh Storey Continue reading (and 3 more annotations)

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I am grateful for that intervention. However, the hon. Lady will agree that there are levels of rationality. Although the comments that she cites are to be condemned, they have not been as frequent as the comments from President Ahmadinejad. The clerics of Qum should therefore not allow the existence of Iran to be gambled away by a president who fails to understand that the hidden imam should not and cannot be rushed. The pure teachings of Shi'a clerics rightly claim that the hidden imam should not be forced by the hand of a mere mortal. Indeed Iran's clerics will know, and President Ahmadinejad should know, that Ayatollah Khomeini taught that trying to precipitate the revelation of the hidden imam was sacrilegious. The timing of God's revelation is in the hands of God himself, not in the hands of an Iranian president. The former supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was right to outlaw the Hojjatiyeh movement.

Perhaps President Ahmadinejad has embarked on a carefully orchestrated new revolution intended to outdo the old, pure revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. If so, it is about time for the clerics of Qum and the supreme leader, who has a mandate for life rather than a maximum of two electoral terms, to intervene and ensure that President Ahmadinejad is reined in quickly and that the Islamic faith is protected for future generations in Iran.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that whatever the intentions of the Iranian Government, they are probably not assisted by persecuting minority sections of the community such as the Baha'is, who are pretty much excluded from higher education and tend to suffer random arrests in considerable numbers? I agree with what he said about the quality of the Iranian state and its contributions to world life in the past, but does he agree that it should now take seriously its responsibilities to the Baha'is and others?

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a history of speaking out on behalf of not only the Baha'i faith but minorities in general, and I am grateful for his intervention. He is absolutely right that the Baha'i faith, along with those of Christian denominations and other religious and ethnic groups, should expect protection under the Government of President Ahmadinejad. At present they are not protected, and the president needs to consider that carefully. Later I shall point to a historical example, of which the president might wish to take note and which will address that point.

It is not inconceivable for Iran's nuclear programme to move from the hands of President Ahmadinejad to those of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the comparatively rational figurehead of the supreme leader is an avenue that should be explored within Iran. It is important to note that the international community, including the United States, does not object to Iran having a nuclear programme, but it needs to be a civil nuclear programme. The US and its allies have even offered Iran assistance in developing civil nuclear technology, but Iran has signally refused to entertain that possibility. The Security Council and Germany have been patient. There have been two key United Nations resolutions on the matter, resolution 1696 in August 2006 and, more recently, resolution 1737, but still Iran has failed to comply. Both the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency are right to show frustration with President Ahmadinejad when he refers to UN resolutions as a "piece of torn paper".

On sanctions, the international community cannot wait for ever for Iran to comply, and I am glad to hear that the talks in London yesterday went well. I am also glad to hear that the Russians are being extremely helpful in trying to convince Iran to change its ways. Perhaps the loudest message that the international community could send at this time would be to mount a blockade of Iran. I refer not to a physical blockade but to a financial one. Colleagues will know that 40 per cent. of Iran's refined oil is imported. Turning off refining co-operation would be a speedy way to focus Iranian minds on the ill-judged path that President Ahmadinejad is taking. Yes, there would be short-term costs to major international companies and the countries that refine Iran's oil, but they would be inconsequential compared with the cost of a major military confrontation. A blockade might have the reward of President Ahmadinejad changing his foreign policy. Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I understand that, if I am not wrong, the hon. Gentleman strongly supports the development of a new generation of nuclear missiles for this country, yet he lectures other countries about adherence to the non-proliferation treaty. Is he aware that our development of a new generation of nuclear missiles would be contrary to that treaty, and that Iran has withdrawn only from the voluntary supplementary protocol of the NPT? It is nevertheless a signatory to it, unlike Israel, which has 200 nuclear missile warheads and is not a signatory to any international treaty on the control of nuclear weapons.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

As an old boy of Newport's grammar school, in my constituency, I would expect the hon. Gentleman to be slightly better informed on the point. The United Kingdom has not threatened to wipe Israel or any other country off the face of the map. I do not agree with his view that Britain is acting ultra vires or outside any legal framework in wanting to replace the current Trident nuclear deterrent. However, Iran is acting outside international law, and I have referred to two UN resolutions in that regard. Diplomacy can work, and I hope that there will be movement as a result of the discussions that were held in London yesterday.

Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons because that would be the perfect platform for oil price volatility, which would undermine every person in every street in every constituency represented here today. Why? Because whenever Iran wanted to increase its oil revenues, it could brandish its nuclear weapon. That threat could be made outside any military context and would be the all-encompassing economic guarantor of Iran's prosperity. It could cause global economic insecurity. A nuclear Iran would therefore be as much an economic threat as a military one, creating a new type of asymmetric confrontation.

As I said, it is not too late for diplomacy to work, and I hope that President Ahmadinejad or the supreme leader himself will enter into new direct talks with the IAEA and the United Nations without preconditions on either side, including the United States. That might bring a breakthrough. Where there is a political will, a political solution can be found. That has happened with North Korea and there is no reason why the current impasse cannot be overcome. It would not be a climbdown by the president or the Iranian people, but merely a recognition that sometimes history's great leaders have been unifiers, not dividers, and peacemakers as well as warriors.

I am a minor student of biblical history from my theological days, and I recall that Cyrus the Great, the charismatic Persian leader and founder of the Persian empire, although he conquered armies and foreign lands, is perhaps best known for his unparalleled statesmanship. Like the two-headed Homa griffin, he was as familiar with making peace as with making war. His peacemaking was seen not as a weakness but as an inherent strength—a strength that allowed him to rule for many years, pursuing a policy of generosity that promoted religious freedom, not repression. He showed tolerance and accepted ethnic diversity. With 40 per cent. of the Iranian people being non-Persian, that would be a good lesson, as Lembit Öpik pointed out, for President Ahmadinejad to take on board.

The Cyrus cylinder, known as the first human rights charter for mankind, showed that Cyrus was a man of fairness and benevolence, not least—there is a sense of contemporary paradox here—in his allowing 40,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem. In fact, it was King Cyrus who paid for their return, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. Perhaps claims of divinity—there have been a lot of those recently—or partial divinity are more believable when they are attributed by others rather than self-imputed.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

On the point of considering King Cyrus's behaviour, does the hon. Gentleman agree that if Cyrus were to read the official daily newspaper of Tehran, Kayhan, and see its denunciations of the Baha'is and others, he would feel that this was not the sort of Iran he had tried to create? In fact, he would feel that that diversity was an advantage to Iran. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the lessons of the past show the great importance of tolerance in the present?

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I think that history can act as a helpful lesson for today and for the future.

In conclusion, what is needed is not an American solution to the Iran question, or one from the international community, but an Iranian one. An Iranian and also—forgive me—Jacobean revolution is needed, where an internal counter-revolution is released to deal with the new revolutionaries who are undermining the old ones. There should also be a doubling of Russia's efforts in persuading President Ahmadinejad to change course. I pay tribute to Russia today. I have been a critic of Russia many times in this House, but today I sing its praises. I shall conclude with a quote—

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Hon. Members:

Oh no!

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

No; I always give way briefly to other bird lovers.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I thank the hon. Gentleman and I will be very brief. Before he finishes, would he like to mention the role of the opposition in Iran and in particular the proscription of the People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, which I am sure will be mentioned later in the debate? That is a key issue.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

That particular armed wing of a so-called political group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is proscribed by the Foreign Office. I am a great believer in the wisdom of the Foreign Office, but I am aware that there are differing views in my party. I do not think that the views of the Foreign Office or the State Department should necessarily be dismissed so easily.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I disagree.

There should be an Iranian solution that is a peaceful one, not one that seeks to undermine the current Iranian regime, whether it comes from members of the international community or Iranian expats.

I shall conclude so that other Members may speak, and express a different view if they have one.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

I wondered whether my hon. Friend was aware of the decision made by the European Court of First Instance, which annulled the proscription, seeing it as illegal. The Government and our Foreign Office are opposing and fighting against that decision. Is he aware of that?

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I am aware that there are differing views in Europe, and indeed in this House. I have my view, my hon. Friend has his and there is mutual respect for both those views.

Cyrus said that

"you are exposed upon a grand theatre to the view of the world. If your actions are upright and benevolent, be assured they will augment your power and happiness."

The current President of Iran might wish to consider that quotation. In the past few days, he has said that he is ready for war. This morning, I would like to ask whether he is ready for peace.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

A large number of Members have indicated that they wish to speak and even more are standing. I wish to begin the Front-Bench speeches at midday, which means speeches of less than five minutes, please, if everyone is to get in.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 11:25 am, 27th February 2007

I will take five minutes and no more, I hope.

When Mark Pritchard spoke, he said a great deal about the history of Iran, which was interesting to a point, but highly selective. He did not say anything about the more recent record of the west's relationship with Iran, such as the coup of 1952, which was promoted by Britain and the United States and which removed an elected Government and brought the Shah into power. Eventually that gave way to the Islamic revolution of 1979. He should be very cautious about direct interference in Iranian affairs, which he appeared to call for throughout his speech.

I am not here to defend the human rights record of Iran since 1979, or during the Shah's period. There are many things going on in Iran that are truly appalling, such as the treatment of religious minorities and trade unionists, and many other issues. All those points should be addressed in a spirit of solidarity with the people who are suffering such human rights abuses. The hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge, however, that there is a widespread unity of opinion among the Iranian exiled community around the world, which is large and diverse. In my constituency, there are Iranian asylum seekers who have sought asylum from every Iranian regime since the late 1950s. Nevertheless, they are, generally speaking, united in their condemnation of the overt and covert threats being made to Iran by the United States and the west, which encourage the belief that somehow or other the west can go to war in Iran and all the problems will be sorted out.

There is no realisation of the two effects that those threats have in Iran. First, they allow Ahmadinejad and his friends to ramp up their power and their wish for strong armament for Iran, and secondly, they frighten the Iranian people very much. Surely it is time to recognise that there is a need for dialogue and peace and a need to cut down the threats against Iran.

The question of Iranian nuclear armament and nuclear power is the kernel of the argument. I shall put my cards on the table: I am not a supporter of nuclear power in any form. It is a dangerous, polluting form of energy generation, but I recognise that it is not illegal under international law for any state to develop its own nuclear power. There is no question about it—it is a legal thing to do. If Iran wishes to develop nuclear power, it can do so in much the same way as any other country. I wish that it were not doing that, but it has a right to do so.

There have been allegations that Iran is also developing nuclear weapons. The evidence has been added up to suggest that it is trying to import centrifuges and enrich uranium, automatically leading to the development of plutonium and then to the development of nuclear weapons. The non-proliferation treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, requires all member states to allow inspections to take place. For the most part, those are pre-notified inspections and, under the voluntary protocol, unnotified inspections. Iran has not resigned from the NPT; it has withdrawn from the additional voluntary protocol, and we need to keep a sense of proportion about that. In its obsession with attacking Iran, the United States forced a vote for the first time ever at the UN International Atomic Energy Agency to bring about a resolution that went to the Security Council, which led to sanctions against Iran. I see that as a build-up, in exactly the same way as we were told an awful lot of nonsense about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, to create sufficient hype for an attack against Iran.

Let us think through the consequences of an attack on Iran. If there is a war or if bombing takes place against Iran by the United States, Israel or anybody else, two things will happen. First, if nuclear establishments are bombed, be they for civil nuclear power or anything else, the danger of fallout will be enormous. Europe has still not got over the fallout of Chernobyl in 1985. Secondly, with Iran active on all fronts, the danger that a war will spread across the whole region into Afghanistan and Iraq will be enormous. I caution hon. Members to be a little more careful in their use of language and think through the consequences of the demands that they are making.

We have been through the disasters of the war in Iraq, and we are still going through them. The war continues in Afghanistan—indeed, following yesterday's statements, Britain's involvement is likely to be much greater. Surely we need to promote peace and dialogue in the region. As if 500,000 and more Iraqi dead were not enough, goodness knows how many would die if we started a war with Iran. Perhaps we should be promoting a nuclear-free middle east, including Israel, which would involve nuclear disarmament and everybody signing up to the NPT. Going to war in Iran would be catastrophic for the entire region and for us as well. I urge caution and a real process of engagement with Iran in order both to prevent a war from taking place and to do something to support those people who quite reasonably demand human rights and justice in their society.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 11:31 am, 27th February 2007

I also congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on securing this timely and topical debate. I want to make a brief contribution.

I was a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation that went to Iran last June—the first such delegation for 30 years—which was a real eye-opener. Like all hon. Members present, I am concerned by the escalation towards some form of direct action in Iran, be it by America or other western nations, or a proxy action by Israel. I am also concerned about the recent actions of President Ahmadinejad, such as the provocative rocket launches, his reckless comments about wiping Israel off the map and the holding of the holocaust conference, which brought together a bizarre ragbag, including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, Jews United Against Zionism and various other oddballs. I am also concerned by the clampdown on students and trade unionists in recent demonstrations, in which, as my hon. Friend said, the cry was, "The people want bread, not the bomb!", and by the persecution of the Baha'i and other religious minorities. Ahmadinejad has claimed to be against terrorism, yet the street by the British embassy was recently renamed Bobby Sands street. The regime has a poor record on human rights, with the execution of minors, although we found no evidence for the stoning of women for some time when we were there, which is another claim that has been made.

The country is also becoming militarised, with an army of 350,000 troops and an air force that is an ideological force, bound to the Islamic revolution and the President himself. I understand why Iran may feel threatened. On one side it has Iraq, and on another side it has Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are all supported by western countries. To the north is Turkey, a member of NATO, and former Soviet states that are increasingly pro-west. One can therefore appreciate the feeling of isolation. However, I should like to make some observations about what we saw there.

Wherever we went, the people in Iran were at pains to point out that they were not the Iranian Government, which is a point that my hon. Friend made. Iran is a young country—26 per cent. of the population are under the age of 15, and are forward looking. They do not look back to the conservatism of the regime that came in back in 1979. They are westernised and highly educated, and 62 per cent. of the student population are women.

Let us remember that Ahmadinejad was in many respects created by the ayatollahs, and has become something of a Frankenstein's monster. He is a very clever politician and a charismatic figure, but has presided over and contributed towards a bust economy. At a time of record oil prices, we expected to see major capital projects all over the place, but there were none. At a time when oil prices are so high, unemployment is probably well over 20 per cent., realistically speaking. Inflation is well into double figures. Iran is having to import $5 billion worth of refined petrol, and oil production is a third of what it was under the Shah. The Iranian economy is bust, yet as the Chatham House newsletter has pointed out, Ahmadinejad's budget for last year

"almost doubled spending on the Coordination Council for the Propagation of Islam, increased that of the Revolutionary Guards by 142 per cent. and raised funding for the Ministry of Welfare by a mere 3.8 per cent. Election campaign promises of large-scale income-redistribution and ending corruption did not materialise. Rather Ahmadinejad gave the Revolutionary Guards an even bigger stake in the economy, awarding them lucrative oil and gas projects."

The economy is therefore not being helped for the people who need it most of all. There is also a big drug problem, as we have heard.

One also needs to understand—as I did not understand before I went there—the cult of the martyr in that country. The Iran-Iraq war, which went on for eight years, still weighs heavily on the consciousness of the people of Iran. Hundreds of thousands were killed or injured, and some still suffer from the effects of poison gas. They harbour some resentment against the west, which provided the Iraqis with the components for the weapons that gave rise to those poisonings. We must remember that the cult of the martyr weighs heavily on the Iranians, but we must not play into the hands of Ahmadinejad. What he needs more than anything is a common enemy. Iran was united against Saddam, but he is no longer the common enemy.

Let us not allow the United States, the United Kingdom or the west to become the common enemy, which could unite the Iranian people behind Ahmadinejad. If military action were taken, it could be counter-productive. Wherever we went in Iran, people asked us why it was that the UK Government seemed to be acting as a poodle of the United States in foreign policy, when this country has a great culture, and a heritage and history of involvement in the middle east, which we could bring to bear in an independent and more benign way than we have up to now.

In conclusion, why do we appear to be rushing headlong into action within Iran? Diplomacy has much further to go. The Iranian economy is bust, and we need to take advantage of that. Sanctions are likely to reinforce the Iranian Government's isolation from the electorate and build up pressure on Iranian diplomats. There must be a lot more mileage that we can get there. Just 18 months after the election of Ahmadinejad, his party won less than 20 per cent. in recent municipal elections, while the reformists, under Rafsanjani and others, took 70 per cent. of the votes nationwide. Good things are happening. Diplomacy still has a lot further to run. We need to understand what makes the Iranian people tick. We need to side with them and to isolate President Ahmadinejad. Rushing headlong into a bellicose threat of action is not necessarily the right way to achieve that.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock 11:38 am, 27th February 2007

I thank Mark Pritchard for securing this debate and for allowing some of us to piggyback on to his initiative. Having said that, I disagree with a number of things that he said, which I shall address in a moment.

I reiterate the view that was expressed by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, who reflected the common denominator among Iranian resistance groups in exile. Whatever their differences, they do not want the contemplation of any invasion or military strike against Iran, as is being canvassed by the United States. Those exiles are proud patriots and they love their country. Not only do they not want it invaded or attacked militarily, but they share the view of the majority of hon. Members that such a course of action would be counter-productive and exacerbate a worrying situation in an enormously dangerous region, in a fragile world. If nothing else, we should acknowledge that the people in exile, who are suffering the denial of both access to their country and democracy in that land, do not want a military strike.

The situation is grave. The backdrop of this morning's discussion is the export of terrorism from Tehran—that is generally acknowledged to be a fact; indeed, it is boasted of—and the growing encouragement of suicide brigades to create destruction, mayhem and death in various parts of the region. Iran has snubbed the views of the international community, particularly UNICEF, on how it handles juveniles. Furthermore, human rights abuses continue, whether in respect of a person's sexual orientation, their religious belief, as has been referred to, or, indeed, whether they are secular. Of course, anybody who wants to create a pluralistic society is clearly unacceptable to the regime. All that comes in addition to its determination to enrich uranium—for military purposes, I believe.

The situation is very threatening. My concern is that the United Kingdom sends mixed messages to Tehran. I acknowledge that Tim Loughton, who went on the IPU delegation, has approached this issue in a very dilatory—diligent, I mean—manner. However, what was dilatory was our letting him go, because such visits send all the wrong signals. I invite him to consider this: we would not send an IPU delegation to Belarus. They are all pretty bad on the league table of rotters, but we would not send a delegation to Belarus, where, for example, there are no executions today, certainly not by the state. Sometimes, we genuflect to some pretty wretched regimes and we are not consistent.

The biggest problem of mixed messages comes from Her Majesty's Government. The Prime Minister talked robustly two or three months ago at the lord mayor's banquet. I could read what he said into the record, but time is short. Basically, he made it clear that, as the Prime Minister, he considers that Iran is exporting terror. On other occasions, he has implied that ordnance and weaponry from Iran, with the regime's fingerprints on it, are being used against British forces around the world.

Those are the views of the Prime Minister—pretty strong stuff. Yet I invite this Minister to consider that Ministers—not only him, but others—send different messages. They are much more appeasing. The Leader of the House is one, as is the Home Secretary. They were singing from a different song sheet. We will probably hear more of that this morning in the 15 minutes allocated to the Minister. If nothing else emerges from this debate, there should be a consistent approach by Government spokespersons when they are dealing with Iran, because their utterances are read in Tehran.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin referred to resistance around the world. He referred to the People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, or PMOI, as a military wing. His view might be different from mine, but it is a matter of fact that the PMOI has not embarked on any military action since 2001. That is recognised by Her Majesty's Government. So the PMOI is no more a military or terrorist organisation than Sinn Fein or the IRA, with whom sensibly—albeit reluctantly—we have had to have dialogue.

The PMOI cannot with any legitimacy be charged with being a military or terrorist organisation. It is simply not true, and the British Government acknowledge that. What is perverse is that the British Government, along with other EU countries, are still resisting taking the organisation off the terror list. They have done that cynically. It is in the public domain that the EU3, which includes the United Kingdom Government, said in November 2004, as an offer to the Tehran regime:

"If Iran complies, we would continue to regard the MEK"— that is, the PMOI—"as a terrorist organisation".

That is cynical and dishonest and diminishes our case. I should have thought that those of us who are peace loving would want to encourage peaceful resistance as a proud weapon. We know that some of the most effective resisters around the world are people who have abandoned terrorism, often in the face of serious physical attack both at home and abroad. There ought to be rewards for the PMOI and similar groups if and when they abandon their armed action. That is why I ask the British Government to reflect again. When challenged, the hon. Member for The Wrekin overlooked that unfair, unjust and imprudent terror tag. There is an old-fashioned virtue called the rule of law. In that sense, courts are above Governments. They sit in judgment, and the court that has determined the issue says that it is unlawful and unfair for the PMOI to be on the terror list.

It is time that the British Government reflected. First, they should send much more consistent messages to Tehran, rather than variable ones from different Ministers—the more junior they get, the more variable they are. Secondly, they should stand by the decision of an independent court that has found them to have made a wrong judgment. We should stress that we look to the British Government to do everything that they can to resist armed conflict in that land, but also to find the distinction between appeasement, which has been the pattern so far, and sensible, prudent and robust dialogue.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

If hon. Members keep their remarks to three minutes, everybody should be able to get in.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 11:46 am, 27th February 2007

Andrew Mackinlay, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has demonstrated the inability of the Government to agree on a line to take, even after 10 years. I suspect that that is due not to junior Ministers, but to the fact that the Prime Minister runs a parallel foreign office at No. 10.

What we require is not regime change, but behaviour change. It has not been made sufficiently clear in this debate that the European Union and others have made an offer to Iran, made clear by an article in The Economist on 10 February:

"Iran has repeatedly rejected an offer made more than a year ago by Britain, France, Germany, America, Russia and China to persuade it to stop its troubling activities. That offer included a proper dialogue with America, improved trade and political ties, co-operation in less proliferation-prone nuclear technologies that would have allowed Iran to produce electricity, but not weapons, and discussions on regional security."

It is worth reminding ourselves that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty allows access to civilian nuclear technology. Iran failed because of its complete lack of candour to the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. That damaged confidence in our belief in Iran's willingness to comply with its treaty obligations. We ought consistently to make it clear to Iran that the treaty allows it to have access to civilian nuclear energy, but on certain conditions, and that we are looking for behaviour change, not regime change.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 11:47 am, 27th February 2007

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on his splendid speech. He was far better than I would have been at pronouncing those difficult words.

I and others have long been concerned about the situation in Iran. The House of Commons has woken up to the facts only in the past two or three years. We made a terrible mistake in going to war with Iraq, and I am one of those responsible for it. I listened to experts when I should have followed my own judgment. I know that the Minister, who has been attacked and praised at the same time, is a fair man who is committed to justice.

When the Leader of the House, a splendid parliamentarian, was Foreign Secretary, his approach to Iran was wrong. Perhaps, unwittingly, he gave some sort of encouragement. When my hon. Friend Mr. Binley and I addressed a crowd of more than 10,000—I recommend it to all colleagues—at a rally outside the UN in New York two years ago, it was somewhat surprising that in the building were very important representatives from the United States of America and the British Government applauding the President. Now, two or three years on, the House has woken up to the fact that the President is evil and wicked.

In conclusion, I do not want the House to fall into the same folly as it did in respect of the war with Iraq. I want peaceful regime change. I agree with the hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South that, in light of the recent judgment by the European Court of Justice, we should support the People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran. It is about time that the Government demonstrated a real commitment to peace and justice for the people of Iran.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham 11:50 am, 27th February 2007

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on securing this debate. As always, he made an eloquent speech. He is, of course, elegant as well.

I am extremely concerned by Iranian statements that it wishes to wipe Israel off the face of the map. We all believe that such statements are totally unacceptable, and our solidarity, of course, is with Israel. However, I recently attended a meeting with a former Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu, when he came to address Members of this Parliament. Basically, I believe that the Israelis are trying to soften us up for the possibility of unilateral action and a strike on nuclear facilities in Iran. I remember the tremendous outcry and outrage in the Muslim community when Osirak was destroyed by unilateral Israeli strikes in 1981, and I very much hope that the Minister will urge caution on our Israeli friends. The problem must be resolved in the United Nations. I am genuinely concerned that our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan could suffer from a huge retaliation because of the outrage that such unilateral action by Israel might cause.

I also have considerable concerns about the attitude of Russia, which is selling nuclear capability to Iran. In fact, when President Bush was interviewed recently at a press conference, he made the obvious statement that, regrettably, financial contracts and business far outweigh political concerns among certain countries. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices and his influence with our Russian allies to explain that, if Russia wishes to be part of and a responsible member of the G8, and a responsible member of the UN Security Council, it must for the first time put aside its financial interests, as we and others are doing, and use its influence with the Iranian regime to ask it to back down.

I would like to reiterate some of the comments about President Ahmadinejad. He was elected, but there were serious fraud allegations and discrepancies at the time of his election, and, as has been said, the Opposition party—the reformists—secured a massive victory in the recent local council elections. We stand in solidarity with those people, who realise the dangerous way in which their President is leading their country. We hope that the Opposition parties will continue to grow.

My last comment is about the strait of Hormuz, that tiny channel of water between Iran and Oman. I am particularly concerned about Iran's statements that it may block the strait in the event of difficulties that it may suffer because of UN Security Council decisions. The Minister will know that more than 40 per cent. of the oil flows through that narrow gap, and I hope that he will assure me that he and his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence are working with our NATO allies and doing everything possible to ensure that the vital strait of Hormuz is kept open.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South 11:54 am, 27th February 2007

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on securing this debate. He made a couple of points that I need to take up with him in the bar—no doubt we will do that later.

I had meant to speak about the failed policy of appeasement pursued by the EU3. It is clear that the regime has no intention of halting uranium enrichment, limiting its nuclear programme or, as we saw yesterday, stopping its work on delivery vehicles. I wanted to talk about the escalating crisis in the middle east and the part that the Iranians have played in it, to our detriment, and I wanted to talk about human rights.

My main message is that appeasement has not worked, yet we are proscribing the National Council of Resistance of Iran and, through it, the People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, which have done much to expose the threat in Iran, are the principal source of information for many western Governments throughout the world, have stated that they do not pursue acts of terrorism—we have agreed with that—do not hold weapons and are totally committed to democracy. The NCRI leader, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, is equally committed to what she calls the third option: no military intervention in Iran and no appeasement, but de-proscription of all those Iranians who have come together in exile to work against the present regime, which has proved so harmful to the Iranian people themselves and which is a threat to world peace.

As I said earlier, the European Court of First Instance annulled the proscription that our Government agreed to in December 2005, but our Government are spearheading a campaign to avoid that annulment and legal decision. What a disgrace it is that our country should try to get out of a properly taken legal decision through treaties that we have properly signed up to. We should be ashamed of ourselves—I certainly am.

I want to ask the Minister three questions. Why are we not recognising the court's decision, and why are we failing democracy and the legal process in that way? When might we eventually recognise the court's decision? Finally, why do the Government continue to give comfort to the mullahs, and continue to send messages that are in total opposition to all that we need to achieve in the middle east?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 11:57 am, 27th February 2007

The point has been well made that we have seen in Iraq the disastrous results of armed intervention and regime change. I believe that most of us would now agree, however we voted at that time, that if there is to be regime change in Iran, it must be brought about internally. If that is the case, is it not perverse that many of those who might seek to bring about such change are proscribed?

The facts have been stated, but let us get them absolutely clear. The People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran ceased internal operations in Iran in 2001, although it was proscribed in 2000. The United Kingdom Government have recognised that it has never made any threat to the UK or the people of this country, or attacked any property in the UK. It has handed over its weapons to the multinational force and is now a democratic organisation.

The UK Government properly have recognised progress in Northern Ireland, where we now deal with people who 15 or 20 years ago we would not have entertained, in diplomatic terms. The game moves on. The European Court of Justice stated in terms that the PMOI's assets should not be frozen. My hon. Friend Mr. Binley is absolutely right to be ashamed that this country is leading the charge to maintain proscription of the PMOI.

I have only one question for the Minister: how and when will the UK Government remove the proscription of the PMOI and allow the people of Iran to move towards internal change?

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

Thanks to the self-discipline of hon. Members, I have managed to get everyone in. I am grateful for that.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:59 am, 27th February 2007

I thank Mark Pritchard for securing this timely debate. It is particularly timely given the meeting yesterday of the United Nations Security Council members and Germany to discuss the possibility of further sanctions against Iran. The 60-day limit on Security Council resolution 1737 expired last week, and Iran has yet to comply with that resolution and resolution 1696 to stop all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, and all work on heavy water projects. In fact, it is expanding the scale of its enrichment programme. Indeed, the Iranian Government are still insisting that their activities are not aggressive and that they have the right to create a system of nuclear energy that does not rely on outside co-operation. As we are all aware, however, Iran's past record of concealment and lack of co-operation with the IAEA inspectors paints a worrying picture and supports the UN's decision to call for Iran to cease all enrichment activities and to accept full IAEA inspections.

The development of nuclear technology could, of course, lead to further nuclear proliferation. If other regional players, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, feel that Iran is arming itself with nuclear weaponry, they might feel the need to respond in kind. Iran's action in refusing to co-operate with the IAEA inspectors and to allow them unrestricted access to this volatile region at this time is not only wrong but incredibly irresponsible. Further nuclear proliferation must be stopped, and we should all do what we can to discourage such a move.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's point on proliferation. Does he have any comment on Israel's development of a nuclear arsenal and on the treatment of India and Pakistan, both of which have developed nuclear weapons and are being rewarded with large amounts of western aid and technology, even though they would both have been in breach of the non-proliferation treaty had they been signatories to it?

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I would love to be able to spend more time discussing the hon. Gentleman's valid points about nuclear proliferation in other countries, but he will understand if I restrict my comments to Iran, as we are restricted for time and as I want to get through quite a bit of information that is pertinent to the debate.

Iran should not be in any doubt that if it continues to break UN Security Council resolutions and agreements with the IAEA, tough sanctions will be imposed. It needs to be aware of the full political, economic and cultural consequences of isolating itself by ignoring the IAEA and the UN. It is, however, important that any actions the UK Government employ are backed by the UN, have international support and are built on international law. The UK and US Governments should not take any actions that are not supported by the UN, and they should follow its lead on sanctions. The UK and the US cannot afford further to damage their international reputations by acting without the support of the UN and the international community, as we did in the case of Iraq.

In particular, there is no role for military sanctions against Iran. Military action would serve only to strengthen the position of hard-line conservative factions and would fan nationalism in Iran, undermining the prospects for change. It would further destabilise the region by provoking retaliation throughout the middle east, creating even more bad feeling towards America and the west and further increasing the east-west divide.

Military conflict would also place coalition forces at risk. UK armed forces cannot be stretched further considering the current action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it would be irresponsible to enter into another conflict. The recent US arrests of Iranian officials in Iraq have raised speculation that military conflict could be triggered not only by non-compliance over the nuclear issue, but by what the US perceives to be Iran's destabilising activities in Iraq.

Already, reports are emerging that the Pentagon has been given instructions to draw up plans for a bombing campaign for Iran that could be launched at 24 hours' notice, while Condoleezza Rice has refused to rule out the use of force in resolving the issues that the US has with Iran. The UK Government must make it clear that military action is unthinkable and should apply the greatest possible pressure on Washington to avoid such an option at all costs. Continuing threats from the US and elsewhere on the prospects of military action are counter-productive. They serve only to reinforce the position of hard-liners in Iran, and they could lead to Iranian withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty.

We need to ensure that we continue to engage with Iran rather than isolating it. Iran has offered to open unconditional talks with the west, but the US has insisted that before such talks take place Iran must stop its enrichment programme. I cannot place too much emphasis on the point that Iran should be persuaded in the strongest possible language, through diplomacy and through economic and political sanctions, to stop its enrichment programme and to open its facilities to inspectors. At this point we need to re-engage with Iran rather than enter into further conflict with it.

Iran's past relationship with Iraq gives it significant power there—many of Iraq's Shi'a politicians have long-standing ties to Iran from their time in exile during the Saddam Hussein era, and Iran has provided military and political support for Shi'ite militias and for Shi'a parties. However, Iran has recently shown signs that it is willing to engage in talks over a peaceful and stable settlement for Iraq.

The US and UK Governments appear to be stalling on involving Syria and Iran in vital discussions on the future of Iraq. I am not for a moment trying to play down the difficulties of such involvement, especially considering the current tensions over Iran's nuclear programme, but negotiations with Iran are key to stabilising Iraq and the wider middle east region. The devastating effects of the conflict in Lebanon last summer, the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq and the fear of nuclear escalation, if nothing else, show us the vital importance of getting the middle east countries around the negotiating table. That must happen, and it must happen sooner rather than later.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 12:06 pm, 27th February 2007

I thank my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard for introducing the debate, and for his demonstration of a classical education. At one stage, I thought of a variation on the old Monty Python joke: if only I had had the Persian, I too could have been a Tory Back-Bench MP. He has shown a knowledge of history, and he rightly emphasised the fact that the Iranian people are a proud and sophisticated people with a long history.

All Members from all parties have addressed the core element of the debate: how we can involve Iran in the international community, recognise its right to develop nuclear energy if it wishes and make it comply with the resolutions of the United Nations, and not only those of the United States of America, Israel and the United Kingdom, that it should not develop nuclear weapons. That is not easy. For some time now, I have taken the view that the bulk of the Iranian people in Iran, and maybe even the bulk of Iranian exiles, believe that Iran has a right to develop nuclear weapons. It is not only the regime that believes that.

We also need to think about what will happen if the Iranian regime manages, by dividing the members of the UN Security Council and by prevarication, to reach a stage at which one or more powers—hon. Members have fearfully pointed this out—decide that the UN's route has failed and that they will take unilateral military action, as they are entitled to do if they believe that their security is threatened. Do we have a plan B to deal with such a situation? Do we have a plan to deal with circumstances in which that had not occurred but Iran had merely obtained nuclear weapons? If that were to occur, we would have to consider a number of factors, not least the fact that if the Israeli Government decide not to use the military option, they will certainly, if they have not done so already, develop a second strike capability. We know already that many other regional powers have intimated that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons they too will go down that path, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others. That will cause a vast escalation of the problem, and I do not think that the Iranian Government has thought that through. There are no particularly easy answers to the question. However, although I, too, do not wish to emphasise the bellicose military threat against the Iranian regime, neither should we say that it is an impossibility.

The line that successive Labour and Conservative Governments took during the cold war—they never talked about the use of military force of any kind against the Warsaw pact, but it was always known to be an option—is a powerful diplomatic tool that must remain on the table. We should remember that however much we do not wish it to occur—and it might not do so—the United Nations, through the Security Council, can ultimately authorise military force. We should bear that in mind when it comes to the signals that we wish to send to the United Nations.

There is no doubt that over the past two or three years the Iranian Government have defied the UN. I am not saying that they have defied the United States of America, Israel or the United Kingdom, but they have defied the UN in such a way that countries such as Russia and China, which tended to be sympathetic to Iran's position, have been driven in anger and fury into supporting the sort of proposals put forward by other members of the UN.

We should take a robust line through the United Nations, one that does not rule out the possibility that the Iranian Government would have to face a military option under the UN. It should be done in such a way that it persuades the Iranian Government that they are defying world opinion, as many hon. Members have said. Indeed, as my hon. Friend Tony Baldry said, we should think of changing the behaviour rather than the regime. UN sanctions should be aimed at bringing pressure to bear upon the regime rather than on the bulk of the Iranian people.

One specific area that I wish to emphasise to the Minister is that disinvestment will have an almost immediate effect on the Iranian regime. The USA has started disinvestment in a limited way, as have we. For example, I understand that the governor of California has put pressure on international banks by threatening to withdraw Californian investments from those involved with financial support of the Iranian regime. California's withdrawing its investments is an attention grabber. I believe that, in the short term, that is the best way to grab the attention of the Iranian regime. My question to the Minister is: what specific measures are the Government taking, and what pressure are we bringing to bear on member states of the European Union? There is no doubt that certain EU countries with investments in Iran are not taking such action. If they want to prevent us from going down the more military line, they should take that very much to heart.

This has been a useful debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 12:13 pm, 27th February 2007

I add my congratulations to Mark Pritchard on securing today's debate. He could not have chosen a timelier subject. I congratulate him on the way in which he presented his case—he did so very well.

As we have heard from a number of hon. Members, Iran is challenging—I use that word carefully—the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear programme. Iran is also providing destabilising support to extremists in Iraq and Lebanon, issuing dire threats to wipe Israel off the face of the map and, as we have heard, denying fundamental freedoms to its people. Addressing Iranian policies in those areas is rightly at the top of our foreign policy agenda. I shall take them in turn and deal with some of the questions that have been raised this morning.

On Thursday, Dr. Mohammed eI-Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who I met the week before last, issued another report on Iran's nuclear programme. The report makes it clear that Iran is continuing—and, indeed, expanding—its uranium enrichment activities in defiance of the Security Council. If mastered, those activities would give Iran the know-how to produce fissile material that could be used in nuclear weapons.

President Ahmadinejad claims that bullying western powers are trying to deny Iran its rights. He says that Iran's ambition is simply to generate electricity. For the sake of clarity, it should be put on record—I do so now, and I hope that it is marked—that we have no wish to deny Iran, or any other country, its rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, provided that it meets its obligations. We have not sought to stop Iran building a nuclear power station at Bushehr to generate electricity. We have even offered to help Iran develop a modern nuclear power industry, if it shows that its intentions are peaceful. I do not know whether that constitutes the appeasement of which my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay accused me and others—it is great to have a new slur put against one's name. Never before have I been called an appeaser; clearly, I shall have to clean up my act.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Just a moment. That was the offer made by the E3 plus three, or if my hon. Friend wants to say it another way, the P5 plus Germany. It was one offer among many. Today, I have heard pleas for us to try to engage with Iran in whatever way we can. We have tried endlessly to engage with Iran, and we will continue to do so. The notion that somehow we are not part of an attempt to engage with Iran in rational discussions is probably the most serious slur of all. I will give way to my hon. Friend, if he is brief.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

The Minister knows that I hold him in high personal regard, and any suggestion of being an appeaser was not made against him personally. If he had listened carefully to what I said, he would know that the charge of appeasement was related to the offer by the EU3 to do a deal with Iran and then persecute the PMOI. That is a narrow point, but it is appeasement, which is cynical and indefensible. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

That is the most perverse description of events that I have heard, but I shall try to address it.

Above all, Iran needs to establish that it is not developing nuclear weapons. Iran has to answer some basic questions. If its ambitions are solely peaceful, why did it hide its enrichment programme for so long? Why is the military involved in a supposedly civilian programme? Why does Iran not give a full account of its dealings with AQ Khan's network, which helped North Korea and Libya with their secret nuclear weapons programmes?

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

On the matter of AQ Khan, does the Minister agree that the Pakistani authorities should send out the message that they are not going to put people under luxury house arrest but put them in prison serving serious prison time in order that others who might be tempted to proliferate nuclear technology do not do so?

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that question. We have raised it with the Pakistani Government on many occasions, because what the hon. Gentleman describes as luxurious house arrest is not an appropriate punishment for what the AQ Khan network did. In relation to Iran, the matter is extremely serious, and I shall add to that.

I have taken part in two debates this morning —this and the previous debate on Lebanon and Syria—in which I have heard Rafsanjani described as a moderate. I saw him give an interview in the run-up to the last presidential election with Gavin Esler on a BBC World interview. He declared: "Yes, of course we have hidden aspects of our nuclear policy. We would not have been able to develop it otherwise." Rafsanjani was in charge of that Administration. We should be careful about dividing Iran into reformers, moderates and extremists. We have all got form, and Rafsanjani has got some too.

The International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors and the UN Security Council have set out the essential steps that Iran needs to take to build confidence, which include the full suspension of enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. The measures required by the Security Council would not affect Iran's pursuit of nuclear energy. Iran does not need to enrich uranium to generate electricity. However, the suspension wouldhelp to provide confidence that Iran is not seeking the know-how to make fissile material for weapons.

There is an argument—I did not hear it this morning, although I was waiting and prepared to hear it, and have discussed it with Dr. el-Baradei among others—that the IAEA board and the Security Council are wrong to insist on a suspension because Iran has either mastered enrichment or cannot be stopped. That is entirely misguided. Iran has enriched relatively small quantities of uranium, but it has not learned how to operate the process properly. Iranian scientists are yet to solve a range of technical problems and therefore although suspension remains crucial and pressing, there is still time for diplomacy to work. We remain committed to finding a negotiated solution and our approach has been to make it clear to Iran how it might benefit from meeting its obligations. At the same time, we have made it clear that it will face the risk of greater international isolation if it fails to take the steps required by the Security Council.

In June 2006, Javier Solana—the EU's high representative—presented proposals to Iran on behalf of the so-called E3 plus three—the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia and the US. Those proposals are far-reaching and offer a way forward that would provide confidence that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. The proposals would also give Iran everything that it needs to develop a modern civil nuclear power industry, plus other political and economic benefits. Despite that, Iran has failed seriously to engage in discussions. The proposals are still on the table and, even at this stage, I hope that Iran will acknowledge the benefits of them and take the steps required by the Security Council so that talks can begin. The current sanctions will be frozen if Iran complies with the proposals and would be lifted in the event of a long-term solution. I welcome the efforts by Javier Solana in the past few weeks to urge the Iranians to take a positive path. I hope that everybody understands the significance of that and that real attempts have been made to engage with the Iranian Government. If the Iranians do not address international concerns, the Security Council will have no choice but to impose further measures.

I was glad to hear Mr. Simpson talk about the effectiveness of financial sanctions, which are incredibly important. We know that such sanctions worry the Iranians most. An indication of that is the 400,000 Iranians who live in Dubai, where they think that they can do their business. They are living there in preparation for what they consider the inevitable imposition of sanctions as a consequence of the intransigence of the Ahmadinejad regime. Iran is not North Korea. It has a great history, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin has described, and it has a large merchant class—traders, scientists and engineers. The people of Iran want a prosperous country, but they know that that will not happen under the leadership of Ahmadinejad. The people of Iran understand that economic sanctions would be effective and therefore they are taking measures to ensure that, if necessary, they can carry on with their business outside Iran.

Daniel Kawczynski asked about the straits of Hormuz. I was recently in Oman, where people are very worried that the straits of Hormuz will be blocked. This time next year, about 20 per cent. of our gas will come by ship from Qatar, where there is the biggest gas field in the world. There is always a reluctance to talk about the politics of energy in discussing this type of politics, but if we attempt to turn on the lights in our homes and nothing happens, we will be very worried about the straits of Hormuz. It is extremely important that measures are taken to ensure that the straits are kept open—all the Gulf states believe that that should be the case. We must redouble our diplomatic efforts in the Gulf to ensure that the other states in that area put pressure on the Iranians together with the E3 plus three and any other group of nations.

On the proscription of Mojahedin-e Khalq, the Home Office rejected an application for de-proscription last year and that is, strictly speaking, a matter for the Home Office. As hon. Members know, however, the MEK is proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 and its involvement in violence means that it has little support in Iran. The MEK claims to support human rights and democracy, but it is hard to square that with its authoritarian structure and claims by respected human rights non-governmental organisations of serious violations of the rights of its own members. I understand that an EU court has ruled that the EU's proscription of the MEK is illegal for procedural reasons and not because there is not a case against the MEK. The MEK remains proscribed in the UK.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

No, I shall not give way. I understand that there is currently a legal challenge to the proscription, which the Home Office is dealing with. I certainly do not want to prejudice that case.

Another argument that I have heard from time to time is that sanctions will make Iran more rather than less determined to defy the international community. Security Council resolution 1737, which was adopted on 23 December, imposed a number of sanctions that focused on Iran's sensitive nuclear and missile activities. Those sanctions are a useful political toolkit to counter the activities of greatest concern, and they are also having a political effect. The Security Council's unanimous adoption of the measures has shown that President Ahmadinejad's claim that the international community is disunited and lacking in the will to act is a fantasy. Far from making the Iranian regime and people more united, the measures have, as we have heard from hon. Members, fuelled greater debate inside Iran about the costs of the course on which the regime has set the country. My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn rightly raised the issues whether that was fair and whether Iran should be able to continue with fissile material production, because Israel also has a bomb. Why on earth would we want another nation to have a nuclear bomb in one of the world's most volatile regions?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I did not say that. Will the Minister give way?

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Admittedly Mr. Corbyn did not say...

Submitted by mick angel Continue reading

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

No, I will not give way. I will try to answer the questions put to me by my hon. Friend in my own way. There is no question that Israel should come clean about its nuclear bombs and delivery systems. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk and others have made the important point that Israel will start to develop a second strike capacity. I know from my discussions in the Gulf that the Egyptians, the Saudis and Turkey will want a bomb because they feel threatened by that regime, which is why there is no more important issue on the international horizon. We must do everything that we can diplomatically. An invasion or a bombing campaign is not on the horizon, and the Government have nothing to do with such suggestions. When I was in Washington before Christmas, I also heard nothing about such an approach. We must get real about the situation and try to understand that, if we are to persuade the Iranian people that this is not the proper course, we must take much of the advice given to us by the hon. Member for The Wrekin.

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"When I was in Washington before Christmas, I also heard nothing about such an approach."

Really? Cross your heart and hope to die?

Submitted by mick angel