Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Third Report


1. Iran is a country of major geo-strategic significance and political and economic importance. Its neighbours, from the Gulf States to the South, through the Middle East and the Caucasus to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the East, include some of the most volatile areas of the world. Its population of 70 million, with a median age of just 23, lives above the world's fourth largest reserves of oil and second largest reserves of gas.[1] Iran has a vital contribution to make to the war against terrorism; its long border with Iraq makes it a key player in the future of that country; and it occupies an immensely sensitive position on a major drugs route to the United Kingdom and Europe. These factors were among those which made a strong case for this Committee to produce a Report on relations with Iran.

Background to the Committee's Inquiry

2. The Foreign Affairs Committee first announced its intention to inquire into Iran in June 2000. At the time, it hoped to visit Iran in late October of that year. The visit had to be postponed, first—at the request of the Iranian side—to the Spring of 2001 and then—because of the United Kingdom general election in June 2001—to a date to be decided by the incoming Committee in the new Parliament, in consultation with the Iranians. A brief interim Report was issued in February 2001, in which the Committee explained this situation and with which it published the written evidence it had by then received.[2]

3. After the general election, the new Committee reaffirmed its intention to visit Iran and it was agreed with the Iranians that the visit should take place in March 2003. Once again, events intervened and, with war having broken out in neighbouring Iraq, the visit had to be postponed one further time, until October. Meanwhile, however, we had heard oral evidence on Iran and had sought further written evidence.[3]

4. The visit finally took place from 19 to 23 October 2003, and proved to be very worthwhile. A copy of the programme is appended to this Report.[4] On 2 December, we followed up the visit by hearing oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary. We also continued to receive written evidence. On 26 December, a terrible earthquake struck southern Iraq, destroying the ancient city of Bam and killing 42,000 people. We extend our sympathy to the families of the dead, to the injured and homeless for the suffering they have endured.

5. In this Report, we set out our conclusions and recommendations on the United Kingdom's relations with Iran, on a series of multilateral issues in which Iran is centrally involved, and on Iran's human rights record, which affects its relations with this and other countries. A separate Report in our series on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, published in February 2004, also dealt with some aspects of Iran's regional and global roles, and was also informed by our visit.[5]


6. We wish to thank those who provided us with oral or written evidence during the period of this extended inquiry. The fact that our much-postponed visit to Iran was eventually able to go ahead and to succeed in achieving its aims was due largely to the assistance of our counterparts in the Majles (Iranian parliament), the Iranian Embassy in London and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and, in particular, at the British Embassy in Tehran. We are grateful to all these for their work on our behalf.

1   CIA "World Factbook", available at Back

2   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2000-01, Iran: Interim Report, HC 80 Back

3   Foreign Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 405, Ev 29-49, 132-136, 142-153, 154-158. See also list of written evidence published with this Report Back

4   See Appendix Back

5   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2003-04, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 81 Back

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Prepared 19 March 2004