Iran General NewsBritish Parliament debates Iran policy – Part 2

British Parliament debates Iran policy – Part 2


Iran Focus, London, Feb. 10 – The following is part two of the text of a debate on Britain’s Iran policy in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords on February 9. Iran Focus, London, Feb. 10 – The following is part two of the text of a debate on Britain’s Iran policy in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords on February 9.

Part one of the text can be found here: British Parliament debates Iran policy – Part 1

Part two of the text can be found here: British Parliament debates Iran policy – Part 3

House of Lords, United Kingdom
09 February 2006

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I too want to thank my noble friend Lord Hurd for initiating this debate and for laying a basis for excellent debate with his excellent speech. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, but I am sure all noble Lords will agree with that.

The Iran crisis is more serious than the Iraq crisis, for three reasons. There is a greater and real danger of nuclear proliferation; there is, I believe, an increased hostility among middle eastern countries toward western countries, generated by the Iraq war; and, if the Iran crisis ever led to military action—which I hope it will not, yet we cannot rule that out—it is difficult to see where the necessary troops could be found among the coalition countries. However, the situation is in one way better than the Iraq crisis was, in that the European Union countries are now working together. They are now also working with the United States.

I want to refer to one lesson from the Iraq story that is relevant in this situation and in other international problems which may face us, which is that we should be ready to put our views strongly to the United States. I am a great supporter of the American alliance, and have been all my life. However, one serious aspect of the Iraq crisis was that the Prime Minister clearly failed to put our views and interests strongly enough to the Government of President Bush. Indeed, we know that he and President Bush made an agreement 11 months before the war began, supporting the idea of war in principle. I have no idea what persuaded him to do that—his wish to be popular, I suspect—but that was a great pity. We have greater experience of the Middle East than the Americans, who should have paid greater attention to our views.

I believe that the United States expected to be welcomed in Iraq and that their troops, when they got there, would have received the sort of reception they had in France in 1944, with flowers and joy. They expected the situation in Iraq to be peaceful, which it turned out not to be. I remember hearing a powerful speech just before the beginning of the Iraq war from my noble friend Lord Jopling, who is not here today. He had been in Washington the week before and had had several talks with politicians and military people, and he made the point that there appeared to be virtually no preparation being given to what would happen after the Iraq war. That is what led to many of the disasters which have followed ever since. Have the allies worked out a strategy for the possibility that, for example, the Russian offer of enriching uranium may fail? What other strategy should then be adopted? I seek some reassurance on that, although I do not suggest that it is the only problem to be faced. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, that we are in for a long haul.

I turn now to Israel, which is very relevant to this situation. Israel is an important factor in the whole of the Middle East, and a matter of concern to almost every middle eastern country. We know that the new president of Iran made that extraordinary statement about wiping Israel off the face of the map. That hostility to Israel clouds and hampers all western efforts to encourage stability in the Middle East. What is required is for the United States, which alone can do this, to put pressure on Israel to follow the road map. I mention pressure on Israel; although the Palestinians also need to do things, at present I want to draw attention to the importance of pressuring Israel to move forward.

I also want to ask about the Russian suggestion for enriching uranium on Iran’s behalf, which has already been mentioned. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, that one cannot rely on the British media for information on such matters. He mentioned being informed by reading papers from New York, or other American papers; we are badly informed on that matter and I would like to hear from the Minister where it stands.

Lastly, I want to reinforce what has been said by a number of noble Lords about the termination of the proscription of the PMOI, which seems to be extremely desirable in the present circumstances.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful, as all of your Lordships are, to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for introducing this debate and to the Opposition for giving it time. My own engagement with Iran goes back a long time; I had a month there in 1961 and I may be the only Member of your Lordships’ House to see the inside of an Iranian prison. In the light of some of the remarks about the present state of human rights and freedoms, I should say that there is a good deal of loss of memory or perhaps absence of awareness of what life was like in Iran before the revolution in terms of human rights. In my time there I was arrested by Savak, the secret police, on a number of occasions. It was a brutal, horrid regime of torture, denial of freedom of speech and all the rest of it—rather worse, as far as I can gather, than prevails today. Certainly, the press was not as free then as it is now.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way, as I appreciate that this is a timed debate, but past bad human rights does not mean that we should tolerate bad human rights now.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, of course it does not. On the other hand, to try to discuss Iran without context, whether cultural, historic or regional, is a recipe for coming to the wrong conclusions.

I have been back to Iran a number of times in recent years, including the visit by the parliamentary group in 2000—the first since the revolution. As president of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, I returned there in 2004, trying to drum up an effective exchange of trade between the two countries. No one has mentioned that. We have good trade with Iran; it is too imbalanced for its good health, in that we export 10 times more to Iran than we import, but it is not insignificant to consider the role of trade in bringing about rapprochement, supporting progressive forces in that country and generally defusing heightened tensions. I strongly argue for that.

I have a strong affection and admiration for Iran and its people, tempered with, I hope, an open-minded criticality of those aspects that are unacceptable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, scarcely needed to point out. Human rights are the most obvious, because the West and this country particularly espouse and value them. I do not defend Iran’s record on human rights—I spoke recently to Amnesty and have done so over the years. Its view on Iran is that human rights are generally improving, but in the past year or so it has gone backwards—not to the position that it was once in, as was characterised during the early revolutionary days, but backwards none the less. I should put in context the fact that there are fewer executions in Iran in a year than there are in the United States. We should think about that.

Some noble Lords have said that there is no democracy in Iran, including the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. That is simply not true. While democracy in Iran is not perfect by our standards, it is more effective than in any surrounding country—countries that are often supported without equivocation by the United States. Iran has elections; we heard about the boycott—well, fewer electors boycotted the recent Iranian elections than boycotted our recent general election. Of course there is gerrymandering of the lists and there is no defence for that; but pretending that Iran is not on the road to the democracy that we would all wish it to have is idle and misleading.

I should remind those who want to bring back the PMOI, give it support and let it loose that it was harboured, supported and sustained by Saddam Hussein—scarcely the most benign of patrons. The idea that we could do that and encourage regime change in a way that will really bring about that for which we devoutly hope—a fully democratic Iran in which human rights are fully respected—is pie in the sky and a dangerous illusion.

I also wish to comment on what my noble friend Lady Williams said about the Iran-Iraq war. You cannot come near an understanding of the chemistry of Iran today unless you appreciate how it feels and felt about that war. It was as recently as 16 to 18 years ago that we in the West—we, too, supplied arms to Saddam—supported that ghastly man in his land grab against Iran. Try to put the boot on the other foot. What if Iran had supported a country that had tried to take, say, part of our territorial rights a mere 18 years ago and, as my noble friend Lady Williams said, we had lost a million people, killed or seriously wounded? It is not good enough to pretend that we now have the moral authority to tell the Iranians what to do and how to run their country.

In my remaining minute, I would like to look forward, because the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was spot on. First, I praise Jack Straw. His performance as Foreign Secretary has been impeccable. He has tried his level best to support progressive forces within Iran and is still doing so—as are the EU3. I would powerfully resist any attempt at military intervention or sanctions. We are a long way from sanctions, because the moment that we impose them is the moment that we drive Iran ever more into the solidarity that it possesses as greatly as any nation on earth. It is a proud country and you will bring all their forces together if you do that. The Americans have had sanctions for 25 years and much good it has done the Iranian progressives. The “axis of evil” speech by President Bush threw power away from the progressives and made President Khatami’s attempts at rapprochement with the West nugatory.

Nuclear demilitarisation of the Middle East is essential if we are to stop Iran trying, as it may be, to obtain nuclear arms. We can do that only in the context of the absolute guarantee of the territorial integrity of Israel. That will mean America, us and the EU giving Israel that assurance so that it can abandon its nuclear weaponry. With that there would be a prospect of getting Iran to do the right thing in nuclear terms. I also commend the notion of a UN-ensured supply of enriched uranium so that Iran can be assured of obtaining that commodity, which is essential for its peaceful nuclear generation programme.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, both on securing this timely debate and on his thoughtful introduction. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will forgive me if on this occasion I resist the temptation to embark on a bilateral debate with him. If our contributions appear to be gabbled and somewhat breathless, it reflects the economical ration of time that has been permitted. I am not complaining. Your Lordships’ House can boast a ready supply of experience and expertise—everything except time.

It is unnecessary to argue for the proposition that the Iranian Government are seeking to procure materials and equipment for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Of course the purpose is not to provide civil nuclear energy; it is to terrorise, if not to attack, other sovereign states. The president has proudly announced his aspiration that Israel should be “wiped off the map”. This is not the occasion to discuss the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, although it is a pleasure, as it is so often, to agree with everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on that subject. It is true that that regime would be seriously threatened, particularly by neighbouring states, if Iran could acquire nuclear weapons without attracting the manifest disapproval of the international community.

However, there is a more serious aspect to the situation. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the present Iranian Government cannot be equated simply with horizontal proliferation among normal states. That Government are totally indifferent to human life and have sponsored a network of terrorism both inside and outside the borders of Iraq. I shall not repeat what was said so eloquently by my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, but Iran’s human rights record is so appalling that it has attracted condemnation by United Nations human rights bodies on 54 occasions, without any response or improvement.

It is not easy to show a respect we do not feel. There is no future in appeasement. Negotiations with a regime which has repeatedly broken its undertakings before the delegates have returned home are pointless. Sanctions would be a matter for the Security Council, under chapter 7 of the charter, but we all know the difficulties of imposing sanctions of a non-military character. The council’s reaction to a proposal for military intervention is not always swift and sure. I doubt that we would see it embark on that light-heartedly. Action unauthorised by the charter would deal a destructive blow to the international rule of law, for which the world would pay a heavy penalty. I agree with those noble Lords who have made that point.

There are no simple solutions, but the most promising resolution of the dilemma, and the most painless one for the people of Iran, lies with the people of Iran themselves. There can be little doubt that the silent majority want change. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Temple-Morris and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester on that. I say the silent majority; of course, it is not always silent. The Iranian Government admit that in 2004 there were 1,300 demonstrations about the economic and cultural restraints now imposed on the people of Iran. That was in spite of police brutality and repressive sentences.

This is an unstable regime in all three senses of that word. The people of Iran are looking for a leadership they can respect. I think that is available. It was the National Council of Resistance that in 1991 revealed the nuclear programme, and in 2002 disclosed the site in Natanz. The NCRI has long spearheaded the resistance to the network of international terrorism. Not all resistance comes from outside Iran. There are very courageous advocates within its borders.

It is tragic that in 1991 the United Kingdom government included in the schedule of terrorist organisations one of the organisations forming the NCRI, the PMOI. It was foremost in condemning the regime, yet its members were labelled terrorists. That decision and the procedure by which it was reached have been the subject of concern from jurists and legislators across the world. Some of us gave voice to our disquiet in a debate in your Lordships’ House on 27 March 2001. That is history; I do not propose to repeat today what many of your Lordships have said, time and again, over the years. Since the decision to include the PMOI in the schedule was first made, much has changed. It was never suggested—as the former Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Jack Straw, made clear—that there was any question of a threat to the United Kingdom. The PMOI has never been violent outside the borders of Iran. It is true that some members of the PMOI have conducted violent operations within Iran. I do not condone that, but they were carefully targeted against individuals who were practising torture. There was no question of anyone else being in danger.

In June 2001 the organisation renounced all violence and I understand that that was made known to the United Kingdom Government. It has adhered to that self-imposed prohibition. The preset situation has been investigated and considered by many responsible jurists and politicians. In November, 500 jurists from 15 European countries gave opinions that the PMOI did not belong on that list. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, has considered the questions and reached a similar conclusion. Time is against me, but I should say that he asked me to tell the House that he regrets being absent from this debate, where he would have spoken, but he had an unavoidable commitment elsewhere. If the NCRI were permitted to conduct its business without the shackles imposed by that label, and with a message that its revulsion against the regime is shared by every decent country in Europe, I believe that the solution to our dilemma could be found within Iran, from the Iranian people.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was very gloomy in introducing this debate; if anything, I take an even gloomier view. There is a certain amount of wishful thinking about Iran, particularly manifested—with great respect to him—by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury.

First, there is the view that Iran is some kind of democracy. I certainly do not take at face value the Iranian regime’s claim of a 60 per cent vote in the last election; the first figure was very much lower. What sort of democratic regime is it in which the candidates for the presidency, according to the specific provisions of electoral law, have to show that in heart and in practice they are loyal to the supreme leader? Who decides whether they are loyal to the supreme leader but the supreme leader himself? Then they are further vetted by the Revolutionary Guard. It is a very strange kind of democracy.

Unfortunately, that was true of Khatami, before Ahmadinejad, who was not quite the noble figure and democrat that many people in the West portrayed. Too many hopes were built on him. Ahmadinejad, the present president, has brought out the regime in its true colours. Certainly it was supporting the insurgency in Iraq a long time before he came to power. There is a feeling that it may have Sharia law, but so does Saudi Arabia and we can deal with it; it is not an unreasonable regime. Since the revolution, real power has been in the hands of a small group of people who are theocratic, fundamentalist and wish to export their revolution elsewhere. It is not like Saudi Arabia, which is a conservative kingdom and does not seem to have any ambitions to export its influence. This is, unfortunately, not the case with the regime in Iran. As a state, it is the principal champion of Islamic extremism in the world.

I do not believe that Iran will be diverted from its nuclear ambitions. We may well be to blame for these conditions and ambitions—I agree with my noble friend Lady Williams on this—and of course we should take all the reasonable steps advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. But it is clear, certainly since 2003 at least, that it intends to acquire nuclear weapons. I do not think it is going to be diverted if we are as nice to it as we can possibly be. I cannot see—and this is why I am so gloomy—any prospect of success.

What happens if Iran is not diverted from its nuclear ambitions? Are we really expecting Israel to stand by and do nothing? I agree that military action or an invasion by the West would have the most appalling consequences. Leaving aside the fact that Saudi Arabia will certainly wish to acquire nuclear weapons, is Israel just going to stand by? I do not see this. If it needed United States assistance in its efforts—and the United States will certainly be blamed—I do not think the United States would refuse to help, if it felt Israel reasonably believed its future to be threatened.

It seems to me that the only hope is a change of regime internally. It may or may not be likely. There have been unexpected changes of regime elsewhere, including Georgia, where a popular revolution replaced a dictatorial regime; Serbia; the Ukraine; and recently there was a manifestation of an unexpected popular uprising in Lebanon. What seems incredible in these circumstances is that we should then ban and proscribe the opposition to this regime, which it regards with most apprehension, as is the case. That opposition may not be the answer—I agree with my noble friend Lady Williams—but I just do not know. It may be no more reliable than Chalabi. I doubt that, but we certainly did not proscribe Chalabi and the Iraqi exiles. That would have been madness. The proscription was the result of a rather sordid deal done by the Foreign Secretary as a quid pro quo for the Iranians saying that they would be reasonable in the negotiations on nuclear power. That, of course, was a delusion, as has since been shown to be the case.

So what are the grounds for proscribing the opposition? I hope that the Minister will answer that—the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made a very powerful speech on that subject. The Minister must deal with those questions. What about the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, who has been absolutely clear that there is no justification for the proscription of the PMOI? I hope that the Minister will answer that. It was a ridiculous stance taken by the Foreign Secretary, and the British Government should lead the way on de-proscription.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, in this interesting debate, an important contribution was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who pointed out that not only does Iran have an ancient civilisation but it is one that has influenced our own civilisation. It is perfectly true that, in speaking of Iran, we are talking about a country with a very ancient history. It is not a state patched up in the aftermath of the First World War by Sir Percy Cox and other civil servants; it is a state that has had for many centuries some degree of political life—sometimes better, sometimes worse—in the territory which it now occupies. That is probably why most of us who are not experts on Iran are interested.

I support the position of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who, in an eloquent speech, argued for pressure of different sorts on Iran, and I recognise the subtlety of the subsequent approach by the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, in discussing different types of pressure. However, in putting forward our view that Iran should not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons programme, we might be more persuasive and effective if we coupled that approach with some recognition that we—Britain, as one of the eight nuclear possessor states—have an obligation to try to do something about nuclear disarmament in the long run. That point was touched upon briefly by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, with whose speech I was in general agreement, although I much disliked her contemptuous use of the word “feudal” as though it were a synonym for evil. So far as I can see, life in Iran today is a good deal worse than it was under the feudal system—in this country at least.

It is important to stress that. After all, as a nuclear possessor state surely we have a duty to make some plan for the long-term future. All of us who know anything of human history know that, if these weapons exist, in the long run they are bound to be used. Whatever views we may have about deterrence, in the long run they are bound to be used with catastrophic consequences.

It is fair to recall that in the sometimes regretted days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union and their allies made token concessions to the idea that in the long run there would be general disarmament—not unilateral but general disarmament. The fact that that matter has rather dropped off the international agenda since 1990 is something that we should regret.

We should perhaps ask the Foreign Office, through the Minister, to look again at some of those old ideas about nuclear disarmament in the long run, which we have discussed extensively in the past. It may seem a long way from Iran but it is worth recalling that, if the most ambitious disarmament plan of the era of the Cold War—the Baruch plan of 1946—had been accepted by the Soviet Union, it would have made it impossible to develop nuclear material and have nuclear development other than through an international agency.

It is particularly satisfactory that Germany should be playing such an important part in the negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue because Germany certainly could, technically speaking, produce nuclear weapons but, for all sorts of reasons, has not been able to do so and, indeed, has not chosen to do so. Other states, such as Canada and Australia and others in Europe, set a very fine example to the rest of the world.

The policy urged by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and others could, I submit, surely be assisted in being put across if we were all conscious of our obligations to try to do something in the long run to remove the nuclear threat. I will no doubt be dismissed as a dreamer in putting forward this position but in fact I believe that I am a realist.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for securing this timely and most important debate. I declare an interest in that I have been an active supporter of the National Council of Resistance of Iran for almost 20 years.

For many years, I have heard apologists for the mullahs advocating continued dialogue with the wicked regime in Iran. I have said on a number of occasions that it was of course necessary to attempt to reach an accommodation on the nuclear programme—the nuclear programme exposed by the National Council of Resistance, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. More recently, the National Council of Resistance has exposed and pinpointed the secret underground nuclear tunnels in at least 14 sites near Tehran, Esfahan and Qom. It is reported that these underground sites are used, in particular, for hiding research centres, workshops, nuclear equipment and nuclear and missile command and control centres. The building work on those sites commenced as early as 1989. It is now time to stop the talking and face the reality. The reality is that those in power in Iran were simply playing for time while they continued with their nuclear development programme. In my view, the time was passed some while ago.

Voices in many parts of the world have been raised in an attempt to point out the folly of attempted appeasement of a vicious and evil regime—a government with a record of human rights abuses that are well documented in a number of reports to the United Nations. I am sure that Members of this House will have learnt from the state-run media in Iran that at least seven people were hanged and 11 sentenced to death in the first two weeks of this year. I say to those who try to draw a parallel between the summary execution of innocent people in Iran and the judicial system in America that there is no parallel at all. The 16-year-old girl who was hanged from a lamppost for arguing with a judge did not have the right to appeal. She did not have an army of lawyers to look after her—she was simply taken out and hanged—and a boy of 14 was beaten to death for eating during Ramadan. Comparisons with America’s judicial system are odious and unnecessary and wrong in this debate. The reports of the recent hangings and executions are not my words. They are from the mullah’s own approved media outlets—Javan and the state-run new agency Irna. The executions included public hangings.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I acknowledge that this is a timed debate, but as the noble Lord addressed his last remarks to me, I should make it clear that I did not make a comparison between the judicial systems of the two countries—although Iran has a judicial system. I was referring to the outcome of the judicial system, and my facts were correct.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I am not a lawyer like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I can speak only as I hear. If I got the wrong impression, I apologise unreservedly, but the House will know what I was trying to say. They are not my words but come from the agency that is supported by the regime. Tragically there are hundreds of examples of the state-run media proclaiming what the Government have done. My noble friend Lady Gould graphically described some of them today.

There are evil people who perpetrate torture, executions, denial of human rights, the export of terrorism—those are not my words, but the words of the Prime Minister. Tony Blair has told the world that Iran exports terrorism and finances terrorist groups. They are the hallmarks of a regime that wants a nuclear arsenal, but for what purpose we should ask. Is it to defend Iran, or to put into practice the destruction of Israel as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated he wants to do? We have to decide what the real reason is.

To their credit, the British Government, together with other European nations, have tried to maintain constructive dialogue with these dreadful people who think little of killing innocent children, and to address the persecution of those who seek to expose the reality of life in Iran. The need for encouraging the opposition that exists in Iran now is so evident. Those who say that only the Iranian people can bring about change in Iran are right. The only effective voice for change is the National Council of Resistance of Iran. If the opposition in Iran is denied the right to criticise or speak out, it is our duty to assist those who seek real democracy in Iran—not the sham elections that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Here in our safe democracy we should look at what happened before the most recent elections. Out of more than 1,000 potential candidates only eight were approved by the Guardian Council, which is the mullah’s watchdog. That is why our Government should now do the honourable thing and remove the label of terrorism from the PMOI. To his credit, our Foreign Secretary has now confessed that more than four years ago when he was Home Secretary he conceded the ban on the Iranian Foreign Minister. On Wednesday of last week, he admitted in an interview on Radio 4 that the Iranian Government demanded it—and he conceded to impose the ban.

I remember the occasion well because I went to speak to Mr Straw in his office at the time, when he was Home Secretary. I reminded him of when we were at the Labour Party conference, which I had the privilege of chairing. I looked up at the gallery and said, “We have our friends from the People’s Mojahedin of Iran with us”. Everybody, including the people on the platform, welcomed them to our conference. I reminded Mr Straw of our time in opposition when we had good relations with the National Council of Resistance. To this day I cannot understand why a nation such as ours could give such comfort to brutal bullies. There is now sufficient evidence to confirm that the PMOI has renounced violence. I welcome the decision to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council.

Finally, I urge those who think my views are strident to read the Commons Hansard report of last Wednesday. An excellent speech was made by Mr David Gauke, the Member for South West Hertfordshire. His analysis and balanced contribution to the debate on Iran’s nuclear programme is well worth reading. Our Government should do everything they can to help the people of Iran to throw off the yoke of tyranny.

Lord Russell-Johnston: My Lords, like many others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for enabling the debate to take place. It is particularly timely because of the nuclear threat. He dealt with it sombrely as has been said, but directly and clearly, and I do not think that I can add much to his remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that we should realise how Iranians see us, given the interference for which we have been responsible. I do not dissent from that, but it is a profound mistake to regard the government in Iran as truly representative of Iranian opinion. We are dealing with a country where those espousing a fundamentalist form of Islam, which rejects all the tenets of liberal democracy, are in repressive control. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, described the consequences for human rights, especially women’s rights. I do not need to repeat them, but a short paragraph from this month’s Foreign Affairs sums up the position very well, and shows that there has been no new development. It states:

“In the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, Iran’s new government quickly suspended the country’s progressive family law, disallowed female judges, and strongly enforced the wearing of the hijab. Within a few months, sharia rulings lowered the marriage age to nine”—

I repeat, nine—

“permitted polygamy, gave fathers the right to decide who their daughters could marry, permitted unilateral divorce for men but not women, and gave fathers sole custody of children in the case of divorce”—

a splendid judicial base on which to build a country.

The noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, has far more experience of these questions, but I do not see how we can have an effective dialogue with such a regime. All we can do is support those Iranians—perhaps the majority of its youthful population—who want an open and fair society.

As was said by the previous speaker, this task has been undertaken by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is a broad coalition, and which is publicly clearly committed to a democratic Iran with full religious freedom on a secular basis and human rights. I have witnessed the huge support for it among Iranians living in Europe, having taken part in rallies in Paris, where there were about 40,000 people and in Brussels where there were about 35,000. It was not reported by the BBC Farsi Service, which has been accused by the council of considerable bias. It is not a question of bias of the BBC in toto because there are no complaints about the Arabic Service or the World Service—only the Farsi Service.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, suggested that Iranians outside the country had only limited influence. With great respect, I query that. Mrs Rajavi is well regarded by many in Iran who admire her courage, tenacity and objectives. Her broadcasts have had great impact within the country. There was a moment when I thought that perhaps the Foreign Office would follow this route. I remind noble Lords of the moment when the late Robin Cook spoke of his wish for an ethical foreign policy. The mandarins in the Foreign Office quickly disposed of that idea, but it remains in the minds of many. The latest Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, admitted on the BBC last week that he agreed to have the PMOI proscribed as a terrorist organisation following a conversation with the Foreign Minister of Iran. That says it all. It is widely believed that that policy was part of the failed European Union attempt to persuade the theocratic regime to abandon its nuclear policy.

On Tuesday morning—the day before yesterday—I was in Luxembourg at the European Court of Justice when the case against the definition of the PMOI as terrorists was brought. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has set this out clearly, so I need not repeat what he said, except to say that I agree with him. It was made clear at the hearing that it happened because of British pressure. Britain was directly represented. There was a European Council advocate and there was a lady advocate representing the United Kingdom. She suggested that other member states agreed with Britain but refused to specify which they were, although she said that if she had been asked before, she would have been willing to give that information. We found that rather incredible. She stated that there were regular reviews of this question. When did the last review take place? When is the next review due? Lastly, she produced no justification for the classification of the PMOI; presumably it goes back to when they were acting as insurgents against the regime. They were undoubtedly engaged in hostilities at that time.

The Government should change their position. I know how difficult it is for any government to admit that they have been wrong. I understand the wish to get the regime to abandon its nuclear aims. Now, however, the Government must admit that the policy has been wrong and that the right thing to do is clearly to support the Iranians who want democracy.

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. This debate is both timely and vital.

The Minister will be delighted to know that my speech will be brief. Four simple questions need to be asked about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On two occasions, he has stated that Iran will wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. For the first time, one member of the United Nations is advocating the total annihilation of another member. Is this political posturing, or does he mean it? He has said that Iran is developing nuclear technology because Iranians need the capability to produce nuclear power, but Iran is a country swimming in oil. Why would it be making tremendous sacrifices to develop a technology that it could not conceivably need for 50 years? He absolutely denies that his country has any intention of developing nuclear weapons. But who believes him? Again, is this political posturing or does he mean it?

It has been reported that, having made a speech in which he denied that the Holocaust ever happened, President Ahmadinejad’s government is this very week sponsoring a competition for the best cartoons depicting the Holocaust, in response to the sad Danish cartoon situation. Again, is this political posturing or does he mean what he says?

Finally, President Ahmadinejad says that he wants to promote a world Caliphate to be run by Iran. I ask again, is this political posturing or does he mean it?

I do not believe such statements are posturing. I believe them to be true. If they are true, we certainly have a very serious problem on our hands. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, makes a plea for patience, but time is running out. Some of those close to the matter believe that Iran will have its own nuclear bomb within the next 12 months. It is also developing ballistic capability. It is reported that Iran has tested rockets with a range of 1,500 km. Put bomb and rocket together, and political posturing no longer looks like rhetoric.

Let us look at the targets in Iran’s sights. Coalition troops—British, American, Australian and others—located just across the borders of neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are all within easy target. Finally, Israel—a country with no borders with Iran; indeed, a country separated from Iran by two intermediate countries.

If President Ahmadinejad means what he says, then he needs to be resolutely deterred from any mischief making. We need firm and sensitive diplomacy, but we also need to send him a very clear message that if Iran attacks any country the consequences for him and for his country will be severe and appropriate.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, both for the initiative in choosing this subject and for his wise words—the words of a sadly all-too gloomy, “head-shaking about the sins of the world” kind of former Foreign Secretary. One can understand why. Many of his points were extremely important and significant, and have been repeated on a number of occasions by other speakers in this debate.

I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, about the disturbing lack of UK press news on the subject. The same thing applies to the whole of the Middle East, and what is happening in Israel and Palestine. There is little detailed news in the British press. I know that it is expensive to have foreign correspondents in these hugely extended areas but, because Iraq is so dangerous, there is a concentration there. They stay in the green zone, and we get very little news from them. I am glad, as the noble Lord said, that the US is co-operating with the EU3. I will return to that in a moment.

We also thank the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, for his wise words and his knowledge and experience of that country. Although he is a gentleman in every sense of the word—if I may embarrass him by saying so—he sounded suitably fierce about the present regime in Iran and what should be done about it. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Chidgey, for his wise words, as well as my noble friend Baroness Williams of Crosby. I only wish time would allow me to mention others.

We ask the Minister to give us some answers to the points that have been raised. However, that is easier to ask than to deliver—not because the Minister is not capable of doing so, but because nothing is more complicated and dispiriting than this looming crisis with Iran. For once, the West, as represented by the EU3 in this context, can be thanked for some exceedingly patient diplomacy. We can also thank the IAEA for having been so patient. Back in November 2003 the chairman was already giving solemn warnings about what Iran was doing in flouting its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

As a good European—I hope—I assert that it is not Europe’s fault that no progress has so far been made. Indeed, the reverse is the case; it looks like a dispiriting failure. Europe—the EU3 and the whole of the Union—needs to be heavily engaged. In that context, we on these Benches fully support the Government and wish them well in dealing with these complex matters. All the options are fraught with difficulties. On the future nature of the Iranian governmental system, its so-called democratic structures are sometimes more robust than we imagine, mostly in demonstrations against the regime, when harsh measures are taken.

However, people note what is going on, even with the limited news. We see the oppressive straitjacket of the mullahs’ regime alongside the mad ranting of President Ahmadinejad. Whether he means what he says is an interesting point, but the international community has a duty to ensure that what he has recently said, about Israel and so on, is never realised.

The Iranian diaspora is enormous and complex. Recently, even Reza Pahlavi—the son of the former Shah of Iran—has been making suggestions about democracy, despite the rather obnoxious features of his father’s regime. We can perhaps take some of his suggestions with a pinch of salt; I hope I am not being unfair to the children of the former Shah.

Americans and others are rash to seek to intervene in such dangerous territory and tell them what to do. The future of Iran belongs to the Iranian people and their decisions will count. That should be the international norm, except if they need assistance from outside of a peaceful kind in which case we should ensure that they have it.

No one can just allow Iran’s international defiance of reasonable requests to go on without the international community responding to the latent danger. Israel is understandably deeply alarmed at the potential nuclear threat if Iran goes ahead with the Iranian enrichment in total defiance of the international proscription against it under the NPT. Equally, however, Israel would gain more worldwide respect—and in Arabia and Iran—if it, too, said that it was now going to adhere to the NPT and accept all the treaty obligations and duties arising from it. Why should Israel be the exception that causes a certain amount of anger and resentment in Arabia, Iran and elsewhere? Sensible Israelis know that and are well-aware of it. Israel has understandably been made, by the United States, the unbeatable military power; to protect and defend itself, to ensure that it is not attacked, ruined or invaded. Nor is there any sign of anyone being able to do that. The quid pro quo is that Israel fully joins the international community and the UN Security Council in making general, collective rules of action and behaviour and suggestions for the peace of the whole area, including the development of the nuclear-free zone, as my noble friend Lady Williams said. That must be one of the priorities for the international community and the United Nations.

President Ahmadinejad, with his extraordinary outbursts—I suppose they are populist, rallying outbursts and therefore intended for national, internal consumption, but I presume that we all notice what he says—has done a real disservice to his people by hardening opinion against his country abroad in general. It makes it much harder for sensible Ministers—there must be some; I presume that one or two moderate mullahs are around as well—to prevail in that kind of climate. Gradually, the secular population will be forced against its will to support this eccentric president.

Now that Russia and China have joined fully in the criticism, and all five of the veto-bearing members of the United Nations Security Council are standing by for a possible resolution, which could include the imposition of sanctions, this is the critical moment. We therefore require guidance from the Minister about what the Government think can now happen. Will EU3 continue to operate just as a trio within the wider European Union in reporting to and liaising with the Security Council? Will the United States, which has been co-operating hitherto, continue to do that too and to reassure outside opinion that it will support what the whole of the United Nations Security Council decides, and not interfere in the wrong sense as it has in other countries? One is always worried about tendencies even in the Mark II Bush presidency. Some people would not readily agree that it is significantly different from Mark I, but we can leave that matter open.

I remember being in Baghdad in 1988, when it was full of American and British businessmen, politicians and officials who were saying that Saddam Hussein’s government were the most wonderful government in the whole of Arabia. It was an efficient regime which bought a lot of our military equipment. They were very opposed to Iran. Even when the gassing in Halabja had taken place, we all recall the Americans saying that the Iranians had done that and not Saddam Hussein.

So our perceptions at a particular time can be misleading. We often regret them later on. Now is a time for collective wisdom in the United Nations and in the European Union’s own deliberations about what to do. One welcomes also the opinion of the 10 new member states, including the two Mediterranean islands.

No one wants to alienate the Iranian people from what they perceive as the basic, built-in unfairness of the wider picture. That is an important issue. Other countries are allowed to pursue nuclear energy and peaceful nuclear activity. The United States is perceived by many people in Iran as often flouting international rules of behaviour and law. Israel is doing exactly what it likes without restraint in the occupied West Bank. More and more people think that is because of a secret agreement between Bush and Sharon. Arabia and the wider Muslim world remain unimpressed by the continuing double standards about which the United Nations does all too little for all sorts of different mechanistic reasons.

However, Iran has to be realistic. Does it really need to do its own uranium enrichment? The answer is no. Why did it brush aside the Russian offer? I admit that it was probably made cynically, but it was a reasonable and genuine offer. If it wishes to resume its own peaceful activities, can those activities then be separated from the looming danger that they later turn into military activities? Those activities must be conducted under the non-proliferation treaty arrangements and full IAEA supervision. North Korea left the treaty, but Iran has so far wisely stayed in it. Surely, therefore, Iran needs the security guarantee package that has been proposed in the EU, in some quarters of the UN and elsewhere. That may be one the main areas in which the Minister will enlighten us today. How will that package be constructed? Will he refer also to the question of possible sanctions?

In the mean time, do not let us antagonise Iranian moderates with premature sanctions until all diplomatic avenues have been exhausted beyond all reasonable doubt. Iran has a final opportunity to step back from nationalistic recklessness and to co-operate fully with the inspectors. Far from that being a humiliation, it is just the normal behaviour of any adherent to the NPT treaty. That would avoid the loss of patience that the United Nations as a whole will inevitably feel if no Iranian response is forthcoming. The stakes are high, but the prize would be great if this turns out well.

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