HL Deb 13 June 1994 vol 555 cc1504-17

7.26 p.m.

Lord Avebury rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they now propose to take in collaboration with other members of the European Union to counter Iranian terrorism abroad.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was at the beginning of March that your Lordships last had the opportunity of discussing recent developments in Iran and, in particular, the gross and persistent violations of human rights committed by the fundamentalist regime in Iran. I make no apology for returning to the subject after such a short interval because of some recent developments on which I hope that the Minister will be able to comment in his reply.

I should like to focus on one aspect of the regime's behaviour which is of particular concern to other states, such as Britain, where refugees from Iran have been given asylum. I refer to the extension of Iranian terror apparatus abroad, as was described in the report by the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, entitled The Tehran Murder Machine. Some of the evidence that we presented has already been outlined in the debate at the beginning of March, which was initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and has been covered in correspondence between the Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Foreign Office Ministers.

The response by the United Kingdom and by other European Union states to the threat posed by Iranian terrorism abroad has been totally inadequate. We have not been prepared to draw the obvious conclusions from the evidence which is already available or to take stronger measures to bring home to the mullahs the unacceptability of their behaviour, which I think is necessary.

Mr. Douglas Hogg wrote to me on 13th April saying:

"We await with great interest the outcome of both the Mykonos trial in Berlin and the French investigation into the murder of former Prime Minister Bakhtiar. Proof of Iranian involvement in these murders would be a significant new development and we and our European partners would have to consider our position towards Iran accordingly".

Mr. Hogg had said previously that no proof beyond reasonable doubt existed that the Iranian authorities were behind these and the many other assassinations which we described in our report, and, It is unrealistic in my opinion to base our policies on such a high standard of proof in regard to each individual terrorist crime perpetrated against the opponents of the regime".

Since we can list, and we referred in that report, to over 100 killings or attempted killings of dissidents and in none of those cases was there any other identifiable motive for the crime, there is a clear pattern. Several further incidents of terrorism have occurred in the past few weeks, including the attempted use of explosives against an embassy in Thailand, for which an Iranian has been arrested.

The pattern to which I refer becomes even stronger when one considers that in many cases the police have identified Iranian diplomatic personnel as being involved in the offences. The successful blackmail of the French Government by Iran to release two suspects who were wanted in Switzerland for the murder of Doctor Kazem Rajavi shows how far the Iranian regime will go to cover its tracks.

The Americans have no hesitation in reaching a conclusion. I wish to refer your Lordships to the State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism 1993, which was published in April. It states:

"Iran again was the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and was implicated in terrorist attacks in Italy, Turkey and Pakistan. The intelligence services support terrorist acts, either directly or through extremist groups, aimed primarily against the opponents of the regime living abroad. Iranian intelligence continues to stalk members of the Iranian opposition in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Despite Tehran's attempts to distance itself from direct involvement in terrorist acts, Iran has been linked to several assassinations of dissidents during the past year".

Some of the cases in our analysis were dealt with in a recent article in the magazine Time, dated 21st March. The author had obtained a copy of the secret 177-page report by the prosecutor in the Bakhtiar case and quoted it as saying flatly that:

"Iranian intelligence services effectively took part in carrying out this criminal conspiracy".

By the way, this morning I was speaking on the telephone to someone in Paris in order to ask when the Bakhtiar case was likely to start. I was told that probably the prosecutor will not be ready until some time later in the year; for instance, November.

Time also names Ali Fallahian, head of intelligence, as playing a key role in these assassinations. We identified him in our report as the mastermind responsible for several murders. Time also confirms the allegation that we made that the Qods force, part of the revolutionary guards headed by Ahmad Vahidi, actually carries out the executions.

One aspect of Iranian terrorism has been acted upon by the Foreign Office without requiring proof in a court of law. It was when Mr. Hogg summoned the Iranian chargé d'affaires and told him that we knew about the contacts that they had with the IRA, which were then lamely denied by the chargé. According to the Independent, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, headed by Ali Fallahian, offered the IRA a range of weapons including eight Stinger surface-to-air missiles, Semtex explosive, 400 Colt pistols and 80,000 rounds of ammunition, 100 Uzi sub-machine guns and 50,000 rounds of ammunition, plus 6 million dollars in counterfeit money and 500,000 dollars in real money. That was all in return for the assassination of three people; Mr. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the former Iranian President living in exile in France since 1981; Mr. Javad Dabiran, a spokesman for the Iranian National Council for Resistance living in Bonn, and Ms. Farzaneh Taidi, a well-known actress who took part in a film which annoyed the fundamentalists. She has since stated that she perpetrated other equally objectionable acts which caused the Iranians to want her to die.

The IRA took three months to consider this offer and then turned it down. Iranian sources told the Independent that it was not the first time that they had been asked to help to kill prominent opponents of the regime including, shortly after the 1979 revolution, General Fereydoon Jam, a brother-in-law of the late Shah, Mr. Ardeshir Zahedi, former Iranian Ambassador to Washington, and Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar, who was later assassinated in Paris though without the help of the IRA.

It was also mentioned that that deal was put to the IRA at a meeting in Tehran last November. It was also attended by members of the Greek extreme Left-wing group, November 17, the Corsican nationalists and ETA, the Basque nationalists. Michael Evans, the defence correspondent of The Times adds that Ali Fallahian's Intelligence Ministry also has links with Japan's Red Army terrorists and Italy's Red Brigades. There is no ideological kinship between the Iranian fundamentalists and any of these groups, and the only conceivable purpose for Tehran to cultivate their friendship is for the regime to use its footsoldiers in its own terrorist activities.

The man in charge of the Intelligence Ministry's links with the IRA is reported to be Mr. Amir Hussein Taghavi, head of the Orwellianly named Anti-Terror Department. He was also the man who negotiated the release of the two Iranians held by the French on charges of murder in Geneva, as mentioned previously, and he is said to have taken the opportunity of his visit to Paris to meet the IRA. There was an intriguing reference in Stella Rimington's lecture yesterday evening which could have been interpreted as a claim that MI5 had headed off operations by the IRA in collaboration with Tehran. If that is so I warmly congratulate MI5. I certainly hope that we are keeping a very careful watch on those activities.

Even though the British authorities are satisfied that Iran was trying to strike deals with the IRA and other tettorist groups, Mr. Hogg still puts the matter hypothetically. He stated:

"Any evidence … of support by Iran for terrorism would be extremely disturbing".

That is how he was quoted by Reuter on 30th May. Why does he summon the chargé d'affaires to remonstrate with him about links between the IRA and Tehran if they are purely hypothetical? Surely it is hopelessly unrealistic to expect any change of policy in Tehran to follow such mild remonstrations. As The Times put it in a leading article on 20th April, A tougher policy to contain Iran is urgently needed".

But the author puts his finger on the problem when he points out that going beyond a public rebuke could risk £297 million-worth of exports. He points out that the Germans and the French are fighting hard for a bigger share of what seems to be a lucrative market and we do not want to be left out of it.

The Americans, on the other hand, are urging a tougher strategy which could work in view of the weakness of the Iranian economy. Foreign debt has risen above 30 billion dollars and 8 billion dollars has to be rescheduled urgently. Oil revenues fell 20 per cent. last year and may decline further if the price of oil falls below 15 dollars a barrel, as many people expect. In Iran real wages are falling as subsidies have to be reduced and public-sector workers are made redundant or put on short time. Furthermore, a power struggle is developing between President Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, the spiritual successor to Ayatollah Khomeini. James Wyllie, writing in Jane's Intelligence Review of April 1994, says that:

"At no point since the early days of the revolution have the political, economic and social condition of Iran been so fragile".

It is time, therefore, for the United States and the European Union to get together and impose tough penalties on Iran for its continued use of terrorism against dissidents abroad as well as its espousal of murder as an instrument of censorship against Mr. Salman Rushdie, his publishers and translators, and even his supporters. If Iranian leaders, from President Rafsanjani downwards, continue to insist that the fatwa pronounced against Mr. Rushdie by the late Ayatollah Khomeini five years ago is still in operation, they should be made to suffer penalties in their dealings with civilised nations. Khomeini actually ordered Moslems everywhere to kill Mr. Rushdie. Now Ayatollah Hassan Sanei declares that:

"Supporters of Salman Rushdie, too, will not be safe from revenge by zealous Moslems. By their action they insult the sanctities of Moslems and deserve to be punished".

The fact that Khomeini could order the killing of Mr. Rushdie, and that the Iranian Government as a whole upholds the fatwa and its extension to others, shows that Iran under the fundamentalist regime operates according to a different concept of the law from everywhere else in the world. The rest of humankind believes that no person can be sentenced except by due process of law. In Iran they believe that as the law comes from God and is promulgated by clerics, the ayatollahs have the power and the right to declare all in one breath that a particular action, or even the use of certain words, is a capital offence, that an individual has committed that offence and that all true believers have a duty to carry out the sentence. No wonder that, holding those views, they have no scruples about killing their opponents. If those murders are planned by the clerics, they must have been decreed by God. It must also follow that if the acts of terrorism that you commit or plan are divinely sanctioned, then no appeals from earthly agencies will influence your conduct. Iran is a unique regime demanding unique responses from the outside world. We should stop behaving as; though it were just another of the many dictatorships which violate human rights.

At the Edinburgh summit of the European Union in December 1992, the Twelve expressed concern about Iran's behaviour and called for improvements in three areas in particular: human rights, the fatwa and terrorism. In all those areas the performance of Tehran today is worse than it was 18 months ago. It is time for the European Union and others, such as the US and Japan in particular, to stop making ineffective criticisms which they have no intention of backing by concrete measures. International terrorism will not be halted by resolutions without sanctions attached to them, and in the case of the theocratic terrorism from Tehran, the world has to act together now.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has brought the House back to the issues we debated on 3rd March. In that debate, initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford—and I make no criticism—we concentrated upon the appalling internal circumstances and the ways in which the Iranian regime has wrought terror and death upon its own population, including religious minorities to which we drew attention. It is right that on this occasion we should look exclusively at the external affairs and threats which the Iranian regime presents to law and order in so many parts of the world.

During the last debate, I congratulated the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on the report which it had published the day before entitled The Tehran Murder Machine. I reminded the House of the resolution which had been passed on 17th August 1993 by the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities which strongly condemned, the continuing flagrant human rights violations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, including … the continuing execution of political prisoners and the assassination of opponents abroad". Although, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I am in no way an expert, I agree entirely that the situation has worsened not only since Professor Galindo Pohl brought out his UN report on 8th November but also in the past three months since we debated the issue in this House. Therefore, the situation has become worse rather than better.

This short exchange gives the Government the opportunity, which I am sure they wish to take, to set out clearly their policies in relation to those external threats. Some have been carried out. Some have not yet been carried out but may be carried out in the future. I agree entirely with the noble Lord that we need to act together with the European Union and the United States because purely individual action would not be appropriate.

I wish to refer to some events that have taken place concerning the barbarous threats to the life of Salman Rushdie. In an interview published in Jomhuri Eslami newspaper earlier this year, the Ayatollah Hassan Sanei said that an unspecified extra award would be added to the bounty if anyone involved in Rushdie's travels killed the author. He said: Today conditions are prepared better than at any other time for carrying out the edict". He referred to the fatwa for killing Rushdie, issued by Iran's late revolutionary leader some five years ago. He said: Rushdie is within firing range and there is a serious possibility that the arrow put in flight by the late Imam's historical fatwa would strike at Rushdie's fear-ridden heart at any moment". He said that the supporters of Rushdie would not be safe from revenge by zealous Moslems, adding: By their action they in fact insult the sanctities of Moslems and deserve to be punished". He referred again to the increase in the reward for the death of a British citizen. That is an appalling situation. It is not as though, after five years and appropriate representations by the British Government, there has been any softening in the Iranian position. In fact the position has hardened. I am sure that the Minister will wish to comment on that.

Secondly, we have seen the nonsense of the forgeries. I know that a forgery does not act as a threat but the absurd actions of the Iranian Government in forging supposed letters between the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and the Secretary of State for Defence, show the pathetic situation reached by a government who are a member of the United Nations and who claim to have civilised relationships with the rest of the world.

I draw the Minister's attention to what I thought was a very sound leader in The Times on Friday 3rd June which referred to, the revelation that a cluster of Iranian diplomats have been circulating [obvious] forgeries in an attempt to discredit British policy on Bosnia and sabotage weary Western efforts to halt the fighting and broker peace". The newspaper went on to urge that Britain should respond in a very positive way to such dishonest behaviour. It may be that the leader contributed to the diplomatic exchanges to which I wish to make reference in a few moments.

While referring to admirable leaders in British newspapers, I hope that the Minister's attention has been drawn to that in the Daily Telegraph today which is also very strong. It is clear that important organs of opinion in this country strongly urge the Government to stand firm and to make their position extremely clear. They have that opportunity this evening.

More serious than forgeries as an example of Iran's malevolent policies is the example of Sudan. It is reported in News on Iran that there are estimated to be 3,000 of Iran's revolutionary guards in Sudan. Officially, they are military advisers to the Sudanese Government in their war with rebels in southern Sudan but western intelligence experts believe that the Iranians are also helping to train a variety of Arab recruits in the latest terrorist techniques. That implies a threat to many other countries and that the sad situation in Sudan, into which I shall not go in detail, is being used as an opportunity to train terrorists to operate on behalf of the mullahs in different parts of the world.

In addition, Khartoum has apparently allowed the Iranian navy to use Port Sudan as one of its main re-supply ports and the Iranian air force has been given special landing rights. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could say whether that information is true and whether the British Government have made any representations both to the Iranians and to the Government of Sudan, who appear to be involved in an extremely disturbing situation.

Most worrying of all is the last example that I wish to give. On 28th April the British Foreign Office summoned the Khamene'i regime's chargé d'affaires to warn him about the regime's contact with the Irish Republic and the IRA, demanding that the mullahs cease those contacts. The facts which have now become clear and which, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, have been reported in the Independent, refer to a situation which certainly I knew nothing about but which was known by those who are experts. Apparently, for years, the Government of Iran have been seeking to use the terrorist operation of the IRA for their own malevolent purposes. That is a direct involvement in a situation which causes great concern in this country. If the IRA has refused to accept the regime's demands, that is at least one bit of good news. However, I do not know. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about the situation. It is quite intolerable that a foreign government should be seeking, by payment presumably, to use terrorists in the United Kingdom for purposes which have nothing to do with the sad conflict in which the IRA is involved but which have a great deal to do with the malicious intentions of the Iranian Government.

I conclude with two questions. First, what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the face of such a crude promotion of terrorism by the Iranian regime? Again, I refer to the very relevant leader in the Daily Telegraph. Secondly, on the other side of the coin, in the exchange which took place on 3rd March, I set out to encourage Her Majesty's Government not only to condemn the actions of the Iranian Government but also to have at least some friendly and informal contacts with those who stand for democracy in Iran. It is not unknown for democratic governments at least to recognise the existence of those of other political parties who stand for different principles. I referred particularly to the Iranian National Council of Resistance. I set it out in detail, but answer was there none. Perhaps the Minister will make some comment now that there has been time to reflect on the points I raised in my speech on 3rd March. I look forward with eager interest to his reply.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing forward the topic again after three months. The noble Lord explained why he has returned to the matter so soon and my noble friend Lord Ennals expanded on that theme and has given us much further information about the serious and deteriorating situation. Principally, as I took it from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, this includes the problems of extra territorial executions—if you like so to call that sort of terrorism—and possibly the use of other terrorist organisations, the IRA being just one example, to further their ends.

That is one of the developments. Then, of course, there is the continued fatwa on Salman Rushdie, which was mentioned by both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. There is now an increased reward for the assassin who manages to kill him. I believe that £2 million dollars have been offered by the Iranian regime. The internal situation in Iran has continued to become worse both from a point of view of human rights and, as has already been mentioned, economically. In fact, things in many directions have become worse.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in his reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, in March, while condemning Iran's behaviour, did not recommend any specific action, other than expressing strong disapproval both nationally and internationally. He was saying in effect: to the Tehran regime, "You have been a bad boy and you must improve your behaviour if you want us to treat you as a normal member of the family". Alternatively, and perhaps more diplomatically —in his own words: It is vital that the Iranian Government understand that if they are to benefit from membership of the international community, both politically and economically, then they must show by their deeds that they respect their international obligations".—[Official Report, 3/3/94; col. 1204.] The nearest approach to any effective measure—and one, I must say, without teeth—was the announcement that the United Kingdom Government, together with their European Union partners, had co-sponsored a resolution at the 1993 United Nations Commission on Human Rights which was strongly critical of Iran's record. That resolution was again brought forward this year. With your Lordships' agreement, perhaps I may quote from Recommendation 3 which says that the Commission: Expresses its concern more specifically at the main criticisms of the Special Representative"— that is, Professor Galindo-Pohl, whose name has already been mentioned— with regard to the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, namely the high number of executions, cases of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the standard of administration of justice, the absence of guarantees of due process of law, discriminatory treatment of certain groups of citizens for reason of their religious beliefs". Here I should draw particular attention to the fact that those who adhere to the Baha'i faith are particularly condemned by the fundamentalist regime because the Baha'i movement broke away from Islam in the 19th century. Their philosophy is one of tolerance, which is precisely the reverse of the fundamentalist regime. The resolution continues to say that there are, restrictions on the freedoms of expression, thought, opinion and the press and … continued discrimination against women". Despite that highly critical review, little in the way of effective action was recommended, apart from extending the mandate of the special representative and keeping the human rights situation in Iran on the agenda for the next session.

However, there are more effective forms of action which could be taken. In the first place, more effective judicial action must be pressed in the case of the known assassins who have been implicated in murders outside Iran. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, the opposite seems to have occurred, especially in France in the case of the two suspected killers of Dr. Kazern Rajavi in 1990. The French authorities had arrested them after the murder in Geneva (they had crossed the border into France). The High Court in Paris ordered that they should be extradited to stand trial in Switzerland. That was countermanded in Paris by the Prime Minister's office for reasons, connected with our national interests". According to one informed source, which is quoted in the report, The Tehran Murder Machine, Paris took with great seriousness the Iranian threats to launch a new wave of terrorist operations in France and abroad if they extradited the men to stand trial in Switzerland. In fact, that was giving in to blackmail.

In Germany in October 1992, Iran's intelligence Minister, Mr. Ali Fallahian, who has also been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, visited Bonn probably in an attempt to stop the trial of those involved in the murder of the four Iranian Kurds in the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin in September 1992. The German Federal prosecutors wanted him to be detained because they had evidence of the Iranian Government's involvement in that and other murders. However, that was blocked by the German Government. Threats of increased terrorism or damage to commercial interests would seem to be the underlying reasons why Western governments are not responding more strongly to these Iranian international acts of terrorism. The Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said three months ago, our outstanding problems … can much more easily be resolved if we talk to each other on something other than …a dialogue of death."—[Official Report, 3/3/94; cols. 1203-4.] How true, but if one side believes so strongly in its cause, as has been outlined by both previous speakers, that it is prepared to murder or execute those who oppose or who criticise it, talking is hardly likely to succeed.

United Nations' resolutions and condemnations are of course in order, but with a regime that pays no respect to national or international law a tougher response is surely needed. Islamic fundamentalism obviously cannot be simply condemned as evil. Its successful spread from Iran to much of the Arab world owes much to its message of hope, self-discipline and renewal in the face of economic hardship and the growing influence of western values and morality, or rather lack of morality as Moslems would see it. However, in Iran, as both speakers have pointed out, economic hardship is now much greater than before. While religious fervour is still strong, there is growing disillusion with the current regime.

If forms of economic sanctions were imposed over and above those which preclude military exports now, and there was an international agreement not to renegotiate Iran's international debt—which unfortunately the Germans have just done—the present regime would find itself in difficulties quite soon from its own population. Relaxation of sanctions and relaxation of debt relief terms could be promised if international terrorism was stopped and human rights within Iran showed real signs of improvement.

It has been said that sanctions do not work, but it was eventually the effects of sanctions on the economy of South Africa which more than anything else was responsible for the ending of apartheid and the democratic elections which we have just seen. I would like the Minister to say why a similar course of action —not simply involving this country but also involving the rest of the countries of the European Union, and preferably countries of the whole world through the action of the Security Council—applied in such a way that it would be calculated to cause maximum difficulty for the Iranian economy, would not act as a means of persuading that country to conform to the universal United Nations' human rights declarations to which it is itself a signatory.

8.3 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Cranborne on 3rd March in the most recent debate on this issue when he made it quite clear that aspects of Iran's behaviour are of more than serious concern to us. I believe that recent events underline just how Iranian misbehaviour can impact on the United Kingdom. I am sure that, even if the noble Lord feels that it was inadequate, he would agree that our firm protest to the Iranians over their contacts with the Provisional IRA was fully justified. We are more than satisfied that there have been contacts between the Iranian intelligence and the Provisional IRA. We believe that funds may have been transferred but, contrary to some reports that went somewhat further, we do not believe that weapons have been transferred from the Iranians to the Provisional IRA.

We are also deeply concerned by the reports, including those prepared by the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, of which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is chairman, and by the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative, Mr. Galindo-Pohl, of involvement by the Iranian regime in attacks against the Iranian opposition abroad. Such reports give us and our partners every reason to maintain our vigilance. And, of course, the problem of Mr. Rushdie remains.

We strongly condemn the assassinations of Iranian dissident figures abroad and the attacks on those associated with Mr. Rushdie's book, whoever the perpetrators may be. We noted with concern the indictment in Germany of a suspected Iranian Government agent in connection with the Mykonos killings of four Kurdish opposition leaders in Berlin in September 1992 which all speakers have referred to. Obviously we are following that trial most closely, along with the investigations of the murder in France in 1991 of former Prime Minister Bakhtiar. It would be a very serious matter indeed if the Iranian Government were found to be involved. We must though await the outcome of that trial and of the French investigation. There is as yet no proof beyond reasonable doubt—I repeat what my right honourable friend said in his letter to the noble Lord—that the Iranian Government are involved in those murders.

I shall refer briefly to the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. We are aware that an Iranian has been arrested in Thailand and others have been interviewed. Again we are watching the outcome of that case carefully and we are seeking further details. As regards the allegations of Iranian involvement in Sudan made by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I was very interested to hear what he had to say. I regret that I have no information at present that I can give the noble Lord, but I certainly undertake that I or my noble friend Lady Chalker will write to him.

As the noble Lord's Question implies—I think that this was reiterated by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals—we consider that the best way to influence the Iranian regime is by acting together with our European Union partners and through concerted international pressure. I can give an assurance to the House that this we will continue to do. It was for this reason that we promoted a strong declaration on Iran at the Edinburgh European Council in 1992 which made quite clear that the union's future relations with Iran would be determined by Iranian actions in a number of areas including human rights, terrorism and the case of Salman Rushdie. The establishment of a critical dialogue between the European Union and Iran has provided the opportunity for the European Union to continue to make clear to the Iranians the full force of our opposition to their unacceptable activities both at home and overseas.

I have referred to the case of Salman Rushdie. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, quite rightly reminded the House of that case. We are appalled that the threat to Mr. Rushdie remains. The fatwa is a serious violation of international law and an outrageous infringement of his fundamental rights as a British citizen. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on the fifth anniversary of the fatwa on 14th February 1994: We have been heartened by the way in which many governments round the world have demonstrated their support both by meeting Mr. Rushdie and in their discussions with the Iranian C5overnment. We all want to make clear to the Iranian Government that they cannot enjoy full and friendly relations with the rest of the international community unless and until we can be satisfied that there is no further direct or indirect threat from the Iranian authorities to Mr. Rushdie's life or to that of others associated with his book be they translators, publishers or whatever". We hope very much that the Iranian Government will listen to that message. It is the clearest possible message to the Iranians and I cannot stress that more strongly. It is also why, together with our European partners, we drafted and co-sponsored a resolution at the UN Commission on Human Rights in March of this year which urged the Government of Iran—and with the permission of the House I would like to quote— to refrain from activities such as those mentioned in the report of the Special Representative against members of the Iranian opposition living abroad and to cooperate wholeheartedly with the authorities of other countries in investigating and publishing offences reported by them". This action by the international community, inspired by the European Union and strongly supported by Her Majesty's Government, sent a clear message to the Iranian authorities that they cannot flout international law and accepted standards of behaviour and expect to get away with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, quite rightly referred to the internal and economic situation in Iran. We keep in close touch with developments in Iran, including through our embassy in Tehran. We are obviously aware of the debate within Iran about the future direction of Iranian domestic economic and foreign policy. Obviously the decision is one that must be made by the Iranians themselves, but we hope that they will take account of the international community's legitimate concerns when they make their decisions.

We also monitor carefully the state of the Iranian economy. Obviously the transition from the controls of a wartime economy towards liberalisation and an ambitious reconstruction programme has imposed many strains. The weakness in the price of oil and the subsequent loss of revenue has exacerbated Iran's problems, and it is now faced with significant debt payments arrears. Obviously, resolving that problem will take some time and will subject the Iranian people to yet further hardship.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred to the forged letter, allegedly from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. That forgery is known to be the work of the Iranian intelligence services. It is a forgery similar to others which have been circulating in the Middle East and elsewhere since the summer of 1993. On 25th May the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right honourable friend Mr. Hogg, requested the withdrawal of a first secretary at the Iranian embassy because members of the embassy had been involved in attempting to distribute the forged document purporting to show that our policy on Bosnia was directed against Moslems. But, as I have made quite clear, and I repeat now to the noble Lord, to the House and to the world at large, it is quite obvious that those documents were self-evident forgeries. As to our Bosnia policy, as noble Lords will be well aware, the United Kingdom is fully behind the contact group initiative to achieve a negotiated settlement. That remains our position.

Turning to the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, about our contact with the National Council of Resistance of Iran and opposition groups, I have made clear we are under no illusions about the Iranian regime. We have constantly made clear that improvements in its behaviour will be important in determining the extent to which relations can be developed. But we do not believe the National Council of Resistance of Iran to be an alternative to the Iranian Government. It is a coalition dominated by the Left-wing Islamic organisation, Mojahedeen-E-Khalq, sometimes known as MKO. MKO, by its own acknowledgement, has itself been involved in acts of political violence against the Iranian Government from its base in Iraq. In Iran itself MKO appears to have little support. I believe that it was seriously damaged by its own decision to side with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Its leadership was expelled from Paris in 1986 and thereafter established its headquarters in Baghdad. We would not wish to offer MKO or any other body any recognition or encouragement by agreeing to any meeting between them and Ministers of the Government.

As for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, it is difficult to square claims that the NCR] is a democratic party with its own history of violence, its authoritarian nature and the personality cull; surrounding the Rajavis. Despite its democratic structure, we believe that ultimate power is exercised by Massoud Rajavi and his associates.

Having said that, Iran is and will remain an important country for the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is obviously a major regional power whose policies on important issues such as the Middle East peace process, Iraq, Yemen, the former Yugoslavia and Nagorno-Karabakh matter very much to the international community. It has to be stressed, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said about sanctions, that we and the European Union have important commercial interests to pursue in Iran. Again, as I stressed, we are under no illusions about the Iranian regime. Along with our European Union partners and many others we wish to see Iran's human rights record dramatically improved. We seek an end to the totally unacceptable threat against Salman Rushdie and his associates to which I referred. We also wish to ensure that other hostile Iranian activities against the United Kingdom which have once more cast a cloud over our bilateral relations in recent weeks are not repeated.

To resolve those problems we believe that it is absolutely right to maintain a dialogue with the Iranian Government, both bilaterally and with our European partners. This is, and will continue to be, a critical dialogue. I simply cannot accept that there is some simple solution of breaking off relations. It must always be important to maintain a direct line of communication with the Iranian authorities. Together with our European partners we shall continue to press for improvements in Iranian behaviour across the board. We shall make it clear to the Iranian Government that before they can benefit fully from membership of the international community, both politically and economically, they must first show that they are prepared to respect their international obligations.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask a question. He said that we must maintain a dialogue with the Iranian Government. He said that a series of clear messages have been sent to the Iranian Government. He has not told us what was the response of the Iranian Government to those messages or how a dialogue can be carried on by one side only. Has there been any response to our dialogue from the Iranian side? What are we doing if we have had no response?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I believe that I had finished and sat down, but I tried to make clear that I believe that it is important that we continue to keep open our diplomatic representation in Tehran, albeit at a reduced level, so that there is the ability for dialogue with the Tehran regime. I accept that some of the responses from the Tehran authorities have not always been satisfactory, but it is far more important that the possibility and availability of that dialogue should continue than that we should simply close up shop and walk away from the problem. I do not believe—and I do not think that the noble Lord believes—that that would be a satisfactory solution.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, before the noble Lord finally sits down, does he not agree that the Iranian chargé d'affaires denied point blank that there had been any association between the Iranian regime and the IRA? We heard him do so on television. What is the point of continually reiterating the necessity to conform with internationally agreed standards when the noble Lord and the Government of whom he is a Member are not prepared to do anything of a concrete nature to bring home to the Iranians the penalties that they suffer as a result of those policies?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right in referring to the reaction of the Iranian chargé d'affaires. What I wish to make clear is our belief that our outstanding bilateral problems with Iran are most easily resolved by maintaining relations with Iran. That is why we restored relations with Iran in September 1990. That was done on the basis of public statements made by the Iranian authorities that they would respect international law and would not interfere with the internal affairs of another country.

Obviously we shall continue to listen very closely to what they have to say. As I said, I believe that it is important to continue to maintain contact with them. I end by saying that we shall continue to judge them not merely by their words but by their actions.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.25 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.18 to 8.25 p.m.]