Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Third Report


86. Our visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran provided us with an excellent opportunity to see and experience a country which is still half in and half out of the international community. Iran's failure to engage constructively with so much of the world has deprived it of much investment and other benefits; it has also meant that outsiders have been denied access to an astonishingly rich culture, a talented, well-educated people and a huge economic potential.

87. Iran's position at the borders of the Middle East and Central Asia lends it potentially great strategic significance in its region: militarily, politically and economically. When, as we believe they eventually will, the Iranian people put in place the reforms necessary to realise that potential, the United Kingdom will have much to gain from being in an already established relationship with Iran.

88. For the present, Iran remains very much a moving target for commentators. There is competition for dominance among different power clusters, with the clerical establishment currently in the ascendancy. In the short term, the clerics and their allies may make advances, but in the long term they will surely not be able to hold back the aspirations of the younger generation.[63] Young people and women are said to have formed the reformist majority in the 1997 election, and it appears that it may have been their abstention in large numbers which removed that majority in last month's elections.

89. We have previously concluded that the United Kingdom has been right to engage with Iran, even in the face of strong signals from Washington that such a policy was misguided, and even in the face of setbacks to the process of reform, such as the flawed election of February 2004. Having visited Iran, and having spoken at some length and with a degree of frankness to people of influence in that country, we stand by our earlier comments. We conclude that Iran will surely complete its journey towards reform, but at its own pace and in its own way, having regard to its proud history and strong national identity. We recommend that the Government act as a good friend to Iran in that journey, criticising when necessary, but supporting where it can.

63   60 percent of Iran's population is aged under 25 Back

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Prepared 19 March 2004