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Column 463

In taking that decision, one of the main considerations was our hope and belief that by restoring our representation in Tehran we would be able to speed up the release of Roger Cooper and of Nicolas Nicola. Those British citizens were at the forefront of our minds during the discussions with the Iranians. Their cases were the first issues which our charge raised when he resumed official contacts with the authorities in Tehran.

I am sure that the House will agree that the release of Nicolas Nicola on 26 December 1988 demonstrates that we were right to take that firm approach. We welcome Nicolas Nicola's release and only regret that it has taken so long. But I can assure my hon. Friend that we will not be satisfied with just this one step forward. The Iranians must take the further step of releasing Roger Cooper. We expect them also to do all in their power to help secure the release of British hostages in the Lebanon.

Our renewed presence in Tehran means, of course, that we can keep in closer touch. The charge and consul visited Roger Cooper on 28 December. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that they found him in generally good health and reasonable spirits. He is not in solitary confinement.

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He has access to books, television and radio. He has been able to pursue his writing, although I cannot comment at this early stage on the article allegedly written by him which appeared in the Iranian press this week.

But, however reasonable the physical conditions under which he is detained and however often our representatives can see Roger, nothing can compensate for the fact that he continues to be held against his will and with no good cause and against Iran's constitutional and international obligations.

The Iranian authorities know that we see Roger Cooper's case as a test of their readiness to fulfil their obligations and a yardstick of how far they really wish to improve relations with the United Kingdom. We have made it very clear--I say this categorically in response to my hon. Friend--that there can be no substantial improvement in our relationship until Roger is released and until there is positive progress on the situation of the hostages in the Lebanon. We shall continue to insist on this, and we will make sure that the Iranian Government understand that the British public will not stand for less--nor will the Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes past Twelve o'clock.

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