HC Deb 14 March 2000 vol 346 cc157-8
8. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

If he will make a statement on his recent talks with the Foreign Minister of Iran. [112876]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

Dr. Kharrazi's visit in January was the first official visit to Britain by a Foreign Minister of Iran since the revolution 20 years ago. His visit enabled us to take forward our co-operation in areas of mutual concern such as the drugs trade. We are now contributing more than £1 million to assist Iran in combating the drugs trade. I impressed on Dr. Kharrazi the importance that we attach to Iran's commitment concerning Salman Rushdie, and our concern about a number of issues, including the continuing detention without trial of members of the Jewish community and others.

The subsequent elections in Iran produced an impressive majority for reform. The clear mandate of the people of Iran for modernisation justifies our strategy of critical dialogue with those in Iran who want to engage with the modern world.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful for that answer, but will my right hon. Friend think carefully before agreeing to visit Iran? Will he bear in mind that the Government of Iran continue to provide funding, weapons and training for terrorist groups opposed to the middle east peace process? Will he also consider the case of the 13 Jews in Shiraz, who were arrested on apparently dubious charges of espionage? Are they not entitled to proper legal representation and to a fair trial that is open to international observers?

Mr. Cook

I assure my hon. Friend that I share his anxiety. I impressed on Dr. Kharrazi the importance that we attach to the middle east peace process and the severe damage that would be done not only to the peace process, but to relations between Iran and the rest of the world if anything were done to disrupt that peace process.

I pressed Dr. Kharrazi on the question of the remaining Jewish detainees. I am pleased that three were subsequently released on bail and that a trial date has now been set. We shall do everything possible to ensure that the trial is fair and open.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

Did Iran's Foreign Minister say that his Government support the middle east peace process? If they do, should not the Government of Iran recognise the state of Israel?

Mr. Cook

I very much hope that the Government of Iran will eventually recognise the state of Israel; that would plainly be expected as Iran engages with the outside the world. However, I have to admit that, no, I did not get a statement of Iran's support for the peace process. I hope that the new mandate will ensure that the Government of Iran listen to those of us who urge restraint on them so that they do not disrupt the peace process.

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