HC Deb 13 July 2004 vol 423 cc1248-50
8. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)

If he will make a statement on relations with Iran. [183362]

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

The United Kingdom's relations with Iran are based on a policy of constructive but conditional engagement. We aim to support Iranian efforts to reform, while making clear our concerns about Iran's policies in areas such as its nuclear programme, human rights and its attitude to the middle east peace process.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does the Secretary of State agree that Iran, which has suffered so much from the brutal bomb attacks from members of the Mujaheddin e-Khalq organisation—the MKO—should have a meaningful role in discussions on the future of its 3,800 members who are housed in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, which is at present protected by US forces? Would not such a step improve relations between Britain and Iran and confirm the US's declared opposition to international terrorism?

Mr. Straw

I fully understand Iran's concern about the MKO, which I, when I was Home Secretary, declared to be a terrorist organisation following the passage of the Terrorism Act 2000.

On the detainees at Camp Ashraf, I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that they are a matter for the Iraqi Government and the United States authorities; the United Kingdom is not directly involved. However. I am well aware of the concerns of the Iranian Government. We have made proper representations in the past to the United States Government and to the Iraqi provisional Government, and we will make those too to the Iraqi Interim Government.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Coop)

What specific representations has the Foreign Secretary made to Iran in relation to its practical support for terrorist groups who oppose the existence of a state of Israel? Does he agree that support for terrorism by those who oppose the very existence of the Jewish state is the real barrier to securing a two-state solution to the problems in the middle east, not a defensive fence?

Mr. Straw

There are several problems in securing a positive and peaceful outcome to the problems in the middle east. One of those, as I accept, and always have, is the failure by some states, including Iran, properly to recognise the right of Israel to exist and to live in peace within its declared international borders.

On my hon. Friend's specific question, I have raised that issue on many occasions during discussions with my Iranian colleagues about the MKO, when I point out to them that I declared the MKO to be a terrorist organisation. I also say that we have a consistent and common definition of terrorism. In the same list under the Terrorism Act, as Home Secretary I declared organisations that it supports, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also to be terrorist organisations.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) Con)

Nearly two weeks ago, we were told in a written ministerial statement that the deadline of 29 June for Iran to return the marine equipment and weapons that were illegally seized from our servicemen on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway had not been met. Two weeks later, it appears that they still have not been returned, yet the silence from the Government is deafening. I have to say that the Foreign Secretary's timidity on this matter is quite extraordinary. Of course, improving relations with Iran is important, but not at any price. Cannot he see that a relationship based on giving in to aggression will always be suspect, and that if Iran wants genuinely to lift the veil of suspicion that hangs over her, she should be publicly pressed to apologise and to return our equipment forthwith?

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab)

Send a gunboat.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend says, "Send a gunboat." For the avoidance of doubt, we do not intend to do that.

I simply say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we make judgments about how best to maintain our relations on the basis of the best information available. Very occasionally, the use of a megaphone and a rant, which seems to be his approach, might be appropriate, but on this particular occasion neither a megaphone nor a rant will secure the return of the boats and equipment that are over there.

I also point out that we opposed very strongly, and I deplored, the masking of the service personnel. However, as a result of the diplomatic relations that we have with Iran we were able quickly to get the crew on those boats returned into United Kingdom presence.

Mr. Ancram

The Foreign Secretary may dismiss my remarks, but this is the first time that we have heard him make a statement at the Dispatch Box about the incident, three weeks after it took place. I find that extraordinary. Does not the fact that our servicemen were intercepted by Iranian forces while sailing legally in Iraqi waters, forcibly escorted into Iran, and there humiliated by being paraded blindfold constitute a grave and hostile act; and why will not the Government stand up for Britain and say so?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman should say what he proposes rather than simply increasing the volume. Does he propose military action against Iran—apparently not—or breaking off diplomatic relations? Neither proposal is sensible. The Government's approach is sensible and it is remarkable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not suggested a single constructive alternative to our approach.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)

The Iranian Government's record on human rights is poor to say the least. What representations have the UK Government made to the Government of Iran on human rights in that country, especially with regard to the Kurds?

Mr. Straw

We have a continuing human rights dialogue with the Iranians. It is one of the reasons for maintaining diplomatic relations with them.

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