Memorandum submitted by Dr Philip Robins,
St Antony's College, Oxford
1. Up to 1998 relations between the UK and Iran
were very difficult. However, the accommodation over Salman Rushdie
in the autumn of that year drew a line under relations up to that
point. The "agenda of negatives" that had dominated
bilateral relations hitherto, and which was responsible for an
often turbulent relationship, was replaced by a more mixed agenda
of positives (hydrocarbons, export potential) as well as negatives
(proliferation, limited progress on human rights).
2. An important and oft neglected issue
in bilateral relations between the two countries is the issue
of co-operation against narcotics and the primary and secondary
impact of drugs. Together with the potential for commercial opportunities
the issue of action against illegal drugs lies at the top of the
positive inventory of relations. Anticipating that many of the
submissions to the Foreign Affairs Committee will cover the more
obvious aspects of the bilateral agenda, it is to the subject
of combating illegal drugs that this memorandum will be directed.
3. Both Iran and the UK are victims of the
scourge of hard drugs. Some 90 per cent of all heroin entering
the UK originates as opium in Afghanistan and transits Iran and
Turkey. For Iran, the problem of narcotics manifests itself in
First, Iran is encountering a growing
problem of hard drugs consumption at home. There are probably
in excess of one million users of opiates in Iran today. While
many of these are older people whose habit is limited to the smoking
of opium, there is also a real and growing problem of intravenous
heroin use, especially among young males from the poorer districts
of the cities.
Second, Iran is subject to large
scale and well-organised activities by well armed and sophisticated
criminal groups, who smuggle opium over the border either direct
from Afghanistan or indirectly via Pakistan.
Third, with such large scale trafficking
and consumption, Iran is vulnerable to or has experience of a
range of secondary consequences. These include: crime against
property, which has been spiralling in Tehran in particular in
recent years; the undermining of the state through corruption,
though to date this corruption is not thought to have acquired
an institutional form.
4. There is no doubt that the Iranian response
to the issue of hard drugs has been vigorous and costly. The initial
response has been directed at trying to prevent trafficking and
the entry of drugs into the country across the eastern borders.
Official responses have ranged from the deployment of dedicated
men and materiel, to physical attempts to block border access
More recently, the Iranian authorities have broadened their strategy
to include activities beyond strictly law enforcement, such as
public information and education campaigns and the establishment
of rehabilitation centres.
5. Moreover, Tehran has shown itself to
be increasingly well disposed towards international co-operation
against illegal drugs. The executive director of the UN Drugs
Control Programme, Prof Pino Arlacchi, has publicly praised the
Iranian response; UNDCP opened a representative office in Tehran
in June 1999. President Clinton removed Iran from the US list
of problem countries with regard to narcotics in December 1998,
a significant step given the inauspicious backdrop of difficult
relations between Iran and the US at the time.
6. Low key co-operation between the Iranian
authorities and parts of the British government have also been
growing. The Drugs and International Crime Department in the FCO
has forged close links with partner organisations in Iran. The
head of the Iranian Anti-Narcotics Bureau visited London earlier
on this year and had a cordial and constructive meeting with the
Cabinet Office minister, Dr Marjorie Mowlam. The nature of the
win-win potential of drugs co-operation for UK-Iranian relations
was seen in the fact that the FCO permanent under-secretary Sir
John Kerr chose the issue of the fight against drugs to make a
£1.15 million donation during his visit to Iran in December
7. Nevertheless, more could be done to dovetail
co-operation with the Iranians over the issue of illegal drugs,
and hence provide a positive atmosphere for the conduct of general
bilateral relations. Practical recommendations to expedite such
an improvement would include the following:
Help the Iranians widen their interdiction
activity to include hard drugs exiting the country in the west,
especially across the border with Turkey (the bulk of which is
bound for Europe), rather than just at entry points to the east.
Help increase the effectiveness of
Iranian interdiction activities through the supply of relevant
hardware to law enforcers, such as night vision equipment.
Help the Iranians to benefit from
our considerable experience of dealing with the demand side of
hard drugs, covering everything from estimating the magnitude
of the problem through to the areas of prevention and demand reduction.
place the issue of joint co-operation
against drugs at the centre of policymaking and bilateral relations,
rather than having it function as a policy appendage, independent
from the activities of the relevant geographical departments in
the FCO and other UK agencies.
Use our influence with relevant multilateral
organisations, such as the Dublin Group, to galvanise international
aid for Iranian efforts in the area of combating hard drugs.
16 September 2000
1 As in all countries where hard drugs consumption
is significant precise numbers are difficult to come by. In Iran
estimates range from 500,000 to three million (out of a population
of approximately 62 million), with perhaps 10-15 per cent engaged
in heroin abuse. Back
2 Iranian officials state that over 2,500 law enforcers have been
killed in shoot-outs with drugs smugglers, who are often better
armed than are the authorities. Back