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In retrospect, for the 15 members of the UN Security Council to agree on a resolution on the middle east and to establish troop commitments to police it within 31 days was a real achievement. The fact that it happened so quickly should give everyone who is interested in promoting peace and reconciliation in the area cause for some optimism. The UK continues to believe that Security Council resolution 1701 is the best way to resolve Lebanon’s problems. The Government of Lebanon have some important tasks under that resolution. We continue to work with the elected Government and international partners in implementing it.

Right hon. and hon. Members have asked what progress has been made since last summer’s conflict. The deployment of 11,000 UN troops is itself an achievement. I remember, as I am sure do colleagues, the view expressed in debates in August and September that nothing would ever happen, because the situation was too difficult for troops to move into. It has been a successful deployment. Those troops have been deployed alongside 8,500 troops from the Lebanese armed forces. We should remember that this is the first time for many years that the Lebanese army has been deployed down to the Israeli border. That is an important fact. Supported by UN peacekeepers, the forces are now delivering security in the south.

The right hon. Lady did not have time to tell us more, although I should have liked to hear more from her, about the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton: the extent of movement of relief supplies and goods to people in southern Lebanon. Are they getting through? Are they being distributed properly? Are they being affected by the curse of corruption in those areas?

Mr. Love: The critical factor is whether people continue to have trust, and to believe that the words and figures used by the international community will be realised on the ground. When I was there, which was some months ago, there was concern. I wanted to find out whether people had completely lost such trust, because if that happens it sets us all back.

Dr. Howells: I hope to be able to report directly on that to my hon. Friend and to the House after my visit to the Lebanon, but he is right that it is a key issue. I do not think that there is really a shortage of funding. The Paris III conference pledged $7.6 billion in grants, which is an enormous amount. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood remembers from her days at the Department for International Development that often the great problem is whether there is the capacity to spend the money wisely and to ensure that it reaches those who most need it. That is something on which we need to do a lot of work.

In the few moments left to me, I want to mention that we are providing a significant package of economic assistance to Lebanon, which we set out at the Paris III conference. Some of the numbers have already been mentioned: we shall contribute £58 million to Lebanon in the coming years, in addition to the £23 million that the UK gave last year in humanitarian assistance. That included food, water and shelter, and £2.8 million of the money was committed to clearing unexploded ordnance—

Miss Anne Begg (in the Chair): Order. We must now move on to the next debate.
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11 am

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in what is an important and timely debate on this subject.

When one talks to most people about their views on Iran outside the current nuclear context, one will hear about an ancient nation with proud traditions, an impressive history of innovation and commerce and a land of scientists and superior artisans in almost every discipline. One will also hear about the great intellectual capacity of the Iranian people and their desire for learning and knowledge. One needs only to look at the Iranian diaspora in the United Kingdom to see how Iranian people benefit communities throughout our country, let alone the rest of the world.

Here in the capital, the national health service benefits every day from the expertise of Iranian doctors and consultants, and UK universities enjoy the learning and knowledge of esteemed Iranian academics. The contribution of the Iranian people not only to their own well-being, but to that of other nations, whatever their ethnic and religious background, is a contribution of which the Iranian people can be rightly proud.

That is why the nuclear stand-off between the Iranian regime of President Ahmadinejad and the international community is a potential tragedy not only for all those people who might have to suffer the consequences of miscalculation, sliding to war or to precipitous action, but for the Iranian people themselves. The international community’s quarrel is not with the people of Iran—the university student wanting to better themselves, the Iraq-Iran war veteran selling his merchandise in the marketplaces of downtown Tehran or even the imam calling his worshippers to Friday prayers—but with the intransigent and inflexible views of President Ahmadinejad. By seeking to pursue Iran’s reprocessing uranium enrichment programme, he puts Iran on a collision course not only with countries such as the United States, but with allies of Iran such as Russia.

President Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic rhetoric may excite certain elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but it does not do anything to address the serious economic plight in which many ordinary Iranians find themselves. The President was elected on a popular mandate of wanting to represent ordinary Iranians and to address their economic woes and struggles. Therefore, if he is serious about his commitment, he should spend more time getting Iran’s 3 million unemployed back into work, securing the border with Afghanistan and closing down the opiate trail, setting up drug rehabilitation and education centres for Iran’s 1.5 million drug addicts, treating the tens of thousands of Iranians with HIV and AIDS, building new schools, roads and hospitals and preparing Iran’s cities for future geological earthquakes, not military earthquakes.

Iranians are right to ask why, when their economy is in such a state, President Ahmadinejad is spending billions of dollars on developing long-range ballistic missiles or on sending rockets to space. The people of Iran do not need me to tell them that there is no bread
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on the moon. It is also legitimate for senior army officers to question why ballistic missile programmes grow at the expense of Iran’s ageing and decaying conventional forces, and why the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has a seamless flow of funds, but the army is squeezed out of updating even basic military equipment. Iranian admirals are also right to protest at the President’s private IRGC navy.

It is also right that Iranian MPs should be concerned about recent municipal elections—those MPs who got into power on the back of the President’s claims about wanting to help those who suffer economically. Those Members of Parliament who follow him are right to be concerned about the recent elections.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case. Will he also acknowledge, however, that in the elections that returned President Ahmadinejad, and in the assembly elections at the same time, the Guardian Council disqualified some 200 candidates from standing—candidates who had been members of the Majlis and tended to be reformist and out of sync with the regime?

Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He always does, and he is absolutely right to put that point on the record. However, encouragingly, it emerged from the results that the more moderate candidates who support the former President, President Rafsanjani, also gained seats. My hon. Friend is right none the less: the selection of candidates must be more open and democratic to ensure that there is a real mix of Members of Parliament who represent all views. Further, with parliamentary elections upcoming in 2008, it is right that there should be an internal inquiry about President Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric.

It is right that Iran’s national bazaar, its business people and business sector, should be worried about the growing and extending influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps over the country’s economic affairs. Should—I emphasise “should”—Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania move towards an economic bloc, I think that the Iranian people would be embarrassed. When countries in east Africa move towards trading blocs, concentrating more on the economy than on war, and when Latin American countries do the same, there is no reason why there should not be a future in which economic blocs in the middle east bring similar prosperity and hope to the people of Iran.

It is also puzzling—no doubt more so for the people of Iran—that although crude oil prices have been at a long-term high, the oil boom that should have happened on the back of it in Iran has not. However, there is no reason why a change of course cannot put right an economic missed opportunity.

It is also right that Iran’s learned and esteemed Islamic scholars and clerics should ask why President Ahmadinejad claims to speak to the hidden imam. Even the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, did not lay claim to such divine encounters. In fact, claims of exclusive revelation are also an
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affront to the current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and undermine the very teachings of the Assembly of Experts. Perhaps that is why President Ahmadinejad seeks to place his own clerics on the Assembly of Experts and on the Council of Guardians.

There is a great paradox in the Iranian question: perhaps the greatest threat to Islam and to Iran’s continuation as an Islamic regime is not from external forces, but from internal forces that claim a superior and unique interpretation of Islam. It was Ayatollah Khomeini himself who rightly observed that without the existence of an Islamic state, the existence of Islamic law could be lost.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Ayatollah Khameni said in August last year:

Putting that statement together with the President’s statement that he wishes to wipe Israel off the map, and with 50 other such statements from Iran’s leaders in the past year, does the hon. Gentleman think that it could be seen as incitement to genocide?

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful for that intervention. However, the hon. Lady will agree that there are levels of rationality. Although the comments that she cites are to be condemned, they have not been as frequent as the comments from President Ahmadinejad. The clerics of Qum should therefore not allow the existence of Iran to be gambled away by a president who fails to understand that the hidden imam should not and cannot be rushed. The pure teachings of Shi’a clerics rightly claim that the hidden imam should not be forced by the hand of a mere mortal. Indeed Iran’s clerics will know, and President Ahmadinejad should know, that Ayatollah Khomeini taught that trying to precipitate the revelation of the hidden imam was sacrilegious. The timing of God’s revelation is in the hands of God himself, not in the hands of an Iranian president. The former supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was right to outlaw the Hojjatiyeh movement.

Perhaps President Ahmadinejad has embarked on a carefully orchestrated new revolution intended to outdo the old, pure revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. If so, it is about time for the clerics of Qum and the supreme leader, who has a mandate for life rather than a maximum of two electoral terms, to intervene and ensure that President Ahmadinejad is reined in quickly and that the Islamic faith is protected for future generations in Iran.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that whatever the intentions of the Iranian Government, they are probably not assisted by persecuting minority sections of the community such as the Baha’is, who are pretty much excluded from higher education and tend to suffer random arrests in considerable numbers? I agree with what he said about the quality of the Iranian state and its contributions to world life in the past, but does he agree that it should now take seriously its responsibilities to the Baha’is and others?

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Mark Pritchard: I know that the hon. Gentleman has a history of speaking out on behalf of not only the Baha’i faith but minorities in general, and I am grateful for his intervention. He is absolutely right that the Baha’i faith, along with those of Christian denominations and other religious and ethnic groups, should expect protection under the Government of President Ahmadinejad. At present they are not protected, and the president needs to consider that carefully. Later I shall point to a historical example, of which the president might wish to take note and which will address that point.

It is not inconceivable for Iran’s nuclear programme to move from the hands of President Ahmadinejad to those of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the comparatively rational figurehead of the supreme leader is an avenue that should be explored within Iran. It is important to note that the international community, including the United States, does not object to Iran having a nuclear programme, but it needs to be a civil nuclear programme. The US and its allies have even offered Iran assistance in developing civil nuclear technology, but Iran has signally refused to entertain that possibility. The Security Council and Germany have been patient. There have been two key United Nations resolutions on the matter, resolution 1696 in August 2006 and, more recently, resolution 1737, but still Iran has failed to comply. Both the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency are right to show frustration with President Ahmadinejad when he refers to UN resolutions as a “piece of torn paper”.

On sanctions, the international community cannot wait for ever for Iran to comply, and I am glad to hear that the talks in London yesterday went well. I am also glad to hear that the Russians are being extremely helpful in trying to convince Iran to change its ways. Perhaps the loudest message that the international community could send at this time would be to mount a blockade of Iran. I refer not to a physical blockade but to a financial one. Colleagues will know that 40 per cent. of Iran’s refined oil is imported. Turning off refining co-operation would be a speedy way to focus Iranian minds on the ill-judged path that President Ahmadinejad is taking. Yes, there would be short-term costs to major international companies and the countries that refine Iran’s oil, but they would be inconsequential compared with the cost of a major military confrontation. A blockade might have the reward of President Ahmadinejad changing his foreign policy. Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I understand that, if I am not wrong, the hon. Gentleman strongly supports the development of a new generation of nuclear missiles for this country, yet he lectures other countries about adherence to the non-proliferation treaty. Is he aware that our development of a new generation of nuclear missiles would be contrary to that treaty, and that Iran has withdrawn only from the voluntary supplementary protocol of the NPT? It is nevertheless a signatory to it, unlike Israel, which has 200 nuclear missile warheads and is not a signatory to any international treaty on the control of nuclear weapons.

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Mark Pritchard: As an old boy of Newport’s grammar school, in my constituency, I would expect the hon. Gentleman to be slightly better informed on the point. The United Kingdom has not threatened to wipe Israel or any other country off the face of the map. I do not agree with his view that Britain is acting ultra vires or outside any legal framework in wanting to replace the current Trident nuclear deterrent. However, Iran is acting outside international law, and I have referred to two UN resolutions in that regard. Diplomacy can work, and I hope that there will be movement as a result of the discussions that were held in London yesterday.

Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons because that would be the perfect platform for oil price volatility, which would undermine every person in every street in every constituency represented here today. Why? Because whenever Iran wanted to increase its oil revenues, it could brandish its nuclear weapon. That threat could be made outside any military context and would be the all-encompassing economic guarantor of Iran’s prosperity. It could cause global economic insecurity. A nuclear Iran would therefore be as much an economic threat as a military one, creating a new type of asymmetric confrontation.

As I said, it is not too late for diplomacy to work, and I hope that President Ahmadinejad or the supreme leader himself will enter into new direct talks with the IAEA and the United Nations without preconditions on either side, including the United States. That might bring a breakthrough. Where there is a political will, a political solution can be found. That has happened with North Korea and there is no reason why the current impasse cannot be overcome. It would not be a climbdown by the president or the Iranian people, but merely a recognition that sometimes history’s great leaders have been unifiers, not dividers, and peacemakers as well as warriors.

I am a minor student of biblical history from my theological days, and I recall that Cyrus the Great, the charismatic Persian leader and founder of the Persian empire, although he conquered armies and foreign lands, is perhaps best known for his unparalleled statesmanship. Like the two-headed Homa griffin, he was as familiar with making peace as with making war. His peacemaking was seen not as a weakness but as an inherent strength—a strength that allowed him to rule for many years, pursuing a policy of generosity that promoted religious freedom, not repression. He showed tolerance and accepted ethnic diversity. With 40 per cent. of the Iranian people being non-Persian, that would be a good lesson, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) pointed out, for President Ahmadinejad to take on board.

The Cyrus cylinder, known as the first human rights charter for mankind, showed that Cyrus was a man of fairness and benevolence, not least—there is a sense of contemporary paradox here—in his allowing 40,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem. In fact, it was King Cyrus who paid for their return, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. Perhaps claims of divinity—there have been a lot of those recently—or partial divinity are more believable when they are attributed by others rather than self-imputed.

Lembit Öpik: On the point of considering King Cyrus’s behaviour, does the hon. Gentleman agree that
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if Cyrus were to read the official daily newspaper of Tehran, Kayhan, and see its denunciations of the Baha’is and others, he would feel that this was not the sort of Iran he had tried to create? In fact, he would feel that that diversity was an advantage to Iran. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the lessons of the past show the great importance of tolerance in the present?

Mark Pritchard: I think that history can act as a helpful lesson for today and for the future.

In conclusion, what is needed is not an American solution to the Iran question, or one from the international community, but an Iranian one. An Iranian and also—forgive me—Jacobean revolution is needed, where an internal counter-revolution is released to deal with the new revolutionaries who are undermining the old ones. There should also be a doubling of Russia’s efforts in persuading President Ahmadinejad to change course. I pay tribute to Russia today. I have been a critic of Russia many times in this House, but today I sing its praises. I shall conclude with a quote—

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Hon. Members: Oh no!

Mark Pritchard: No; I always give way briefly to other bird lovers.

Mr. Drew: I thank the hon. Gentleman and I will be very brief. Before he finishes, would he like to mention the role of the opposition in Iran and in particular the proscription of the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, which I am sure will be mentioned later in the debate? That is a key issue.

Mark Pritchard: That particular armed wing of a so-called political group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is proscribed by the Foreign Office. I am a great believer in the wisdom of the Foreign Office, but I am aware that there are differing views in my party. I do not think that the views of the Foreign Office or the State Department should necessarily be dismissed so easily.

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I do.

Mark Pritchard: I disagree.

There should be an Iranian solution that is a peaceful one, not one that seeks to undermine the current Iranian regime, whether it comes from members of the international community or Iranian expats.

I shall conclude so that other Members may speak, and express a different view if they have one.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I wondered whether my hon. Friend was aware of the decision made by the European Court of First Instance, which annulled the proscription, seeing it as illegal. The Government and our Foreign Office are opposing and fighting against that decision. Is he aware of that?

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