HL Deb 16 April 2002 vol 633 cc819-22

2.50 p.m.

Viscount Waverley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will be submitting the name of their new preferred ambassador to Iran.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have made no decision on this.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, while regrettable, this must not be allowed to dislodge the relationship. Will the Minister undertake to underpin the steady advance in bilateral relations by expediting the process, given the constructive Iranian attitude on a wide range of issues, not least from matters relating to Afghanistan in the international arena and to a resolution of ECGD quandaries in the domestic arena?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we felt that Iran gave a serious negative signal when it rejected David Reddaway, who we considered to be exceptionally well qualified for the job.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we made it absolutely clear at the time that it would have an impact on the conduct of our bilateral relations. However, it is important to say to noble Lords that our policy with Iran remains one of critical engagement aimed at supporting reforms, while maintaining a robust dialogue on areas of concern, such as human rights and the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Temple-Morris

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend's views about the rejection of David Reddaway, but does she not agree and is she not well aware that much of mutual benefit is presently taking place between Britain and Iran? At the end of this very week, an oil and gas show will open in Tehran which will have more than 70 British exhibitors, including many of our most prominent companies. In addition, in May there will be the first ever Majlis visit to Westminster since the Iranian revolution. Those are but two examples. In view of them and others, is it not more than appropriate that a British ambassador should be in post in Tehran as soon as possible?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I said at the outset, we have not made a decision on submitting the name or a new preferred ambassador. I agree with my noble friend that there are some good areas of co-operation. There have been initiatives to strengthen co-operation in the fight against drugs. We have given assistance to Iran for the large number of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan. Co-operation is taking place in the cultural and educational fields and commercial links are also expanding. Noble Lords will be aware of the statement made by the Iranian Government with regard to terrorism.

Yes, there are important areas of co-operation but we maintain that there has been an impact on our bilateral relations as a result of Iran's refusal to acceat David Reddaway. My noble friend will also know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs visited Iran twice last year.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I agree entirely with what the Minister said about the suitability of David Reddaway for the post of ambassador. In the absence of an ambassador, have any special steps been taken to convince the Iranians that we are genuine in calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories in Palestine? She will be aware that the request made by Secretary of State Colin Powell for the Iranians to use their influence to restrain Hezbollah has fallen on deaf ears because they do not believe that the American demands were genuine.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, of course we send strong messages and we will continue to do so. We recognise that peace in the Middle East is in everyone's interest, including Iran's. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others have discussed those issues with their Iranian counterparts.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, as regards the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, which I totally and strongly endorse, will the decision, which has not yet been made, be about trying to persuade Iran and Tehran to change their minds and understand that their original objections appear to be ill-founded and inaccurate; or will it be to put forward a new name; or will it be simply to leave the post vacant until the matter can be sorted out?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I hope that in my original Answer, which I thought was short and to the point, I made it clear that we had not yet made a decision on this. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, set out three different options. We are examining those options but a decision has not yet been made.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether in the light of the unrest in the Middle East there may be some justification for the concerns laid before Her Majesty's Government by the Iranian Government? Is it the practice of Her Majesty's Government to accept or reject the response from countries to which ambassadors are sent?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, when making decisions about who we would propose to governments, we look at the qualities of those individuals. As I said at the outset, we thought that David Reddaway was well suited for the job and we were extremely concerned at his rejection. We are now examining the implications of that.

Of course the bilateral relationship continues but the rejection has had an impact on it. There are some good areas of co-operation and I have outlined them. However, whatever the country, we would be concerned if an ambassador whom we had proposed was rejected on spurious grounds.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as chairman of the Committee on Iran Freedom. Why do we not make clear to the regime in Iran, which sponsors terrorism abroad, denies human rights and builds weapons of mass destruction, that if it wants critical engagement it can be critical of the person whom we want to send as an ambassador but we will engage that ambassador?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I believe that I have made it absolutely clear that our policy is a twin policy; one of critical engagement but also one of robust engagement on issues such as human rights, terrorism and related concerns and weapons of mass destruction. However, at the same time we recognise that there is a reform agenda in Iran which needs a degree of support. We are working to support those reformers while being robust on the issues of concern.