HC Deb 27 January 2004 vol 417 cc146-7
3. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)

If he will make a statement on relations with Iran. [150689]

11. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the progress of political reform in Iran; and if he will make a statement. [150697]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

Our policy towards Iran is one of constructive engagement. Through it, we seek to support reform in Iran while maintaining a robust dialogue on matters of concern, including human rights and religious freedom.

Following my visit to Teheran in late October with my French and German counterparts, and the agreement that we secured on nuclear matters, Iran signed the additional protocol to the non-proliferation treaty on 19 December. A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency's director general will be considered by its board of governors in mid-March.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that excellent reply. Does he agree that as Iran has a strong basic democracy and had the courage to oppose Saddam Hussein at a time when Britain and America were allied to him, that great country has a unique role to play in resolving the problems of the middle east, and should have the full support and understanding of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Straw

I have great affection for Iran. It is of huge strategic importance. I have visited Teheran five times, and I met President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kharrazi on Wednesday in Davos. I maintain a constant dialogue with them. There are, however, important issues on which we look to Iran to make progress. One, self-evidently, is the issue of its nuclear programmes: I look forward to full compliance with IAEA requirements. Another is the establishment of a full democracy. Yesterday, the European Union Foreign Ministers Council issued a call for free and fair elections, without restrictions on candidates, in next month's elections for the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament.

David Taylor

This week sees the second anniversary of President Bush's "axis of evil" address, in which he justified Iran's inclusion on the basis of the unelected few who were repressing the Iranian people's hopes for freedom. Against the bleak backdrop of that speech, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we should redouble diplomatic efforts to secure free and fair elections next month, to win the battle for democracy and thus to avoid the catastrophe that might otherwise await Iran in the light of the policies of the hair-trigger and bellicose American Administration?

Mr. Straw

It has hardly been a secret that our approach to relationships with Iran has been different from that of the United States. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), re-established full diplomatic relations; and I am pleased to say that as a result of various international pressures, including the co-ordination of work done by my French and German counterparts and myself early in the summer, we have been able to secure agreement from Iran in respect of areas in which it was plainly not complying with its own obligations under the nonproliferation treaty.

As I said to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), we look to Iran to co-operate fully with the IAEA and the resolution passed by its board of governors on 26 November.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con)

How close is the relationship between hardliners in Iran and the militant Shi'a in the south of Iraq? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that any tie-up between the two would pose a grave threat to western interests in the area?

Mr. Straw

Iran is a complex country, and there are many strands of opinion. It is, to interesting extent, democratic, but a high degree of power continues to be exercised by an unelected religious authority, and there is a constant tension between the two elements. That said, our analysis so far suggests that the Iranian Government as a whole have played a constructive role in respect of Iraq, as they have in respect of Afghanistan; but obviously, we continue to monitor the situation.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

How concerned is my right hon. Friend about the recent reported comment of the Palestinian Prime Minister that elements in the Iranian regime seek to undermine his leadership, and are directly responsible for the sponsoring of terrorism in Israel? What impact will that have on our relations with Iran?

Mr. Straw

I have not read those remarks, but a constant item for discussion with the Iranians is our concern about their support for rejectionist terrorist groups working in Israel and the occupied territories, and causing mayhem and death on a significant scale. Another is our profound concern that the Iranians' so-called policy on Israel's right to exist—or, in this case, not to exist—runs counter to United Nations resolutions, and to any prospect of a serious peace process getting on the move there. That is an important issue. We believe that Iran needs to resolve it, and cease to support the terrorists.