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Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in what is an excellent speech. Do the Iranians also have an incentive to engage more with the west because President Ahmadinejad came to power on a wave of desire from the overwhelmingly young population to see some of the material benefits that people in the west enjoy? On the occasions on which I have been to Iran, what has been most striking is that the anti-American rhetoric is a far weaker impulse than the desire to own a Michael Jackson CD and a pair of Levi jeans. If we could show the Iranian people that engagement with the west was of financial and material benefit to them, and that it would allow them to take their rightful place in the wider world, surely that would be a powerful incentive?

Mr. Wallace: Yes, undoubtedly. If we had the time, economics, rather than sanctions and so on, would solve the Iran question, but, regrettably, we do not have that time. Ironically, one of President Ahmadinejad’s slogans when running for election was that he would refine more oil and give the revenue to the poor. Unfortunately, I think that he has replaced “oil” with “yellow cake”, because he now spends most of his money refining nuclear materials rather than benefiting his society economically. Interestingly enough, his popularity is not very high as a result.

Mr. Gale: A few moment ago, my hon. Friend said that stability was the most valuable currency in the west, and we recognise that. He implied that the Iranians should trade on it, but if stability was the most valuable currency in the west and we did not care about hanging people from the ends of cranes, and about human rights, we could argue that Saddam Hussein’s regime was stable and, certainly, that Robert Mugabe’s regime was stable. Is my hon. Friend in favour of that?

Mr. Wallace: My hon. Friend lets himself down with that sort of question. He has to answer the question of why in the middle east we have other allies that openly behead people in squares and do not respect human rights anything like as much as Iran does. We seem to do business with many of those countries at the same time. I said earlier in my speech that human rights are very important, but they are compatible with Iran’s rights and we need to help Iran to recognise that. They are compatible with Islam too. It is remarkable that we trade with some of those other countries. The longest-term threat, which one hears about in Iran if one goes to the country, is Wahhabi Sunni Islam, rather than the Iranian regime. I said to the Iranians recently, “When you used your influence beneficially in 2006 to create a ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel, you got closer to the top table than you’d ever been before. That is when you are powerful. When you use your influence the wrong way, such as with Hamas recently, you weaken yourself on the world stage and give no benefit whatever. It is a step backwards.” If Iran recognises that influence can be benign for all of us, it will obtain much more currency with western powers. That is my main message to Iran.

In this day and age, powerful countries are not those that create mayhem or fear, but those that use their influence to resolve conflicts. If they do that, they can take their place in the world order, as they hope to do. Members from all parts of the House are united on the policy of trying to develop better relations with Iran,
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but we must be clear about our end goals and whether the E3 plus 3 strategy works. I am always amazed that we have an overall strategy towards Iran. The E3 plus 3 is the European powers plus the United States, China and Russia, but the Chinese sell missile guidance systems to Iran, and the Russians are currently refitting two attack submarines. That is a problem, so Iranians see the E3 plus 3 as weak.

Under George W. Bush’s presidency, the E3 plus 3 was certainly leaderless; it did not have much strength behind its rhetoric. There is now a great opportunity for the United States, with a strong President who has a proper mandate, to help to develop clear leadership on policy towards Iran and not to give in to the neo-con wing that often undermined policy in the middle east and has been shown to have failed miserably. There is a real opportunity for President Obama to create a strong “3” to add to the E3, to enable us to achieve a resolution. We will know sooner rather than later—when the United States finalises its formal position on Iran—whether there are going to be preconditions for talks. I hope that there will not be. I have first-hand experience of having to talk to terrorists without preconditions; it is not easy and it is certainly not nice. However, some preconditions never work; they only play into the hands of people who do not want a resolution.

We must then examine the sanctions regime, because it strikes me that, historically, Iranians have been incredibly successful at trading. They were at the centre of trade routes for centuries, and they have already shown that, no matter what sanctions we try to impose on them, they are able to outwit them. They recently launched a satellite into space, they trade through Bahrain, which is opposite Iran and has a large Iranian ethnic population, and they are very canny traders. The problem is that sanctions help Iran’s religious conservatives, who demonstrate in their teachings and writings that isolationism is the way forward, because it keeps the revolution pure. With sanctions, we prevent the economic growth that would help to reform the way in which young people look at Iran today.

We must make it clear to our Government that next time we come up with sanctions, either they must be uniformly applied or we should not go down that route at all. That is the problem: we start with a sanction and China and Russia do not back it. Recently, Switzerland signed a big contract with Iran to obtain gas. There is a problem delivering the gas, but the contract showed that, when push came to shove, Switzerland did not hang around to stop helping the Iranian regime. Indeed, the Italian Foreign Minister recently urged Italian companies to do more business with Iran—trusty Italy comes to the rescue on another subject.

We must understand that Iran is desperate to prove that it has rights in the world and is able to demonstrate those rights. We must assure Iranians that we are not going after control of their country: our rhetoric does not match our actions, and we need to bring the two into line. Britain is known by the Iranians for having soft rhetoric but hard actions, whereas the Americans are known for having tough rhetoric but an inability to carry out their actions. There is challenge to be met in respect of whatever policy we come up with, which will no doubt be formed in response to the policy of the United States in the next few months. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to come up with a clear road map that is
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strong, reinforced and shows Iranians the way, but at the same time demonstrates to Iran that we know that we could have done things better in the past.

10 am

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) on his interest in this subject and on getting this debate. However, I view some of his words a little sceptically and I wonder whether he is looking at the Iranian regime through rose-tinted spectacles. I agree that we need to engage with that regime, that we need to win the trust of the Iranian people and that we need a bigger carrot than we are currently offering if we want to get that engagement, but I found his comments rather conflicting. He said, for example, that we needed to engage with the regime, whatever we think of it and whatever actions it has taken in the past. Yet he does not want us to engage with the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran, because it may have past links to terror.

The hon. Gentleman asked the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), who is his hon. Friend and my parliamentary neighbour, whether he would have supported the Conservative Government’s talking to Irish terrorists if they had succeeded in killing members of the Front Bench. I remind the hon. Gentleman that they did; they killed Airey Neave a few feet from where we are standing now. To the credit of the last Conservative Government, they engaged with Irish terrorists and started the process that we were able to conclude. If violence is in the past, as it would appear to be with some of the organisations involved with issues in Iran, which are operating outside that country and have renounced violence, we have to engage with them and give them a voice, because surely that is what being members of a democratic society requires us to do.

I do not consider myself a specialist in foreign policy and I rarely speak on the subject in this House. But I became exercised about our relationship with Iran and its influence in the middle east as a result of a visit to Israel and Palestine last year. During that visit, I heard first hand about the influence that Iran wields, particularly over Hamas and, increasingly, in the north with Hezbollah. In return for providing resources to those organisations, Iran expects them to engage in continued violence against Israel. There is no questioning that. If I had been told that on my visit only by Israeli politicians, I might well have concluded that they would say that, wouldn’t they? But I was told the same thing by Palestinian politicians when I visited the west bank. Again, if those politicians in Palestine had all been members of Fatah or had links to it, I may have come to the same conclusion, because they have a dispute with Hamas. But I also heard it from Palestinian politicians with no links to Fatah and who are not beholden in any way to Fatah.

It is clear to me, from subsequent events—the actions that we saw as people tried to negotiate a ceasefire after the Israeli attacks on Gaza in January—that Iran is making its continued support for Hamas dependent on Hamas’s continuing to allow, or turn a blind eye to, attacks on Israel. While those missile attacks on Israel continue, the Israelis will continue to attack Gaza and the dispute and the awful violence that is happening at the moment will continue. We have to detoxify that whole area if we are to make any progress.

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We were getting somewhere in the north. I visited Israeli settlers on the Golan, who were saying, “We will give up the Golan to Syria as part of a peace deal and, for the first time, we believe that a real peace deal with Syria is within our grasp. We can do a deal with Syria. We understand that giving the Golan back to Syria will be part of that deal. And we will go. We, the Israelis who occupy the Golan, will go as part of a real peace deal.” What has happened to that peace deal? Iran has exerted its influence again. It has started to try to build influence with Hezbollah and tried to make it clear to Syria that any continued relationship between Syria and Iran depends on Syria’s not making any progress with such peace negotiations. This is the reality of what I have called Iran’s toxic influence in the middle east. Until we detoxify that influence and get Iran to start engaging more positively and more constructively, we will never have a resolution to these problems.

How do we move forward? I mentioned to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), at Foreign Office questions a few days ago that Einstein said that it was madness for people to carry on doing what they are doing and expect it to have a different result. It is clear to me that what we are doing at the moment is not having the effect that we would like.

If I do not regard myself as an expert on foreign policy, I do regard myself as an expert on nuclear policy and nuclear energy. I can tell the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre unequivocally that the uranium enrichment programme in which Iran is engaged is unnecessary for peaceful use of nuclear energy in this world. I accept Iran’s right to have a nuclear energy programme. I support nuclear energy in this country and I see no reason why it cannot benefit countries throughout the world. I would be 100 per cent. behind our engagement with Iran in helping it to build a peaceful nuclear energy programme. But it is not doing that. Iran now has enough uranium probably to build a bomb. It may not be able to construct the bomb yet, but that will come. It certainly has enough uranium to build a dirty bomb. Who can doubt, listening to the President of Iran’s words, that, in this world, an Iran with a nuclear bomb would be a nightmare that all of us and our children should do everything in our power to avoid?

We have to start tightening up the sanctions. The hon. Gentleman was right. We have to make some of our partners in the E3 plus 3 a bit more honest about those sanctions. Russia is helping Iran to build one of its nuclear reactors and that has to stop. China is selling equipment to Iran that it should not be selling and that has to stop. Even in the European Union, Austria, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Greece are all putting their business interests in Iran before the interests of their citizens in the wider world. We need to deal with that in two ways: formally, within the EU, and by raising the rhetoric in those countries, so that the people there realise what their Governments are allowing to happen. I do not believe that the people of Austria, Greece and the other countries that I mentioned want Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

We must tighten up the financial sanctions. Our own Lloyds bank was found guilty of helping—inadvertently or advertently I will not say—Iran to launder money to get past the sanctions. Now we own a big stake in that bank. If any of those banks in which we, the British
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Government, have a stake are found to be continuing to launder money on behalf of the Iranians, that would be the same as the British Government doing it. So it must stop.

We must tighten the sanctions to avoid Iran being able to get access to the financial sector and the City of London. I admit that we might have done slightly more harm to the Iranian regime by allowing its banks to become involved in the financial services sector over recent years, but we now need to ensure that they are excluded. We also need to tighten up our efforts through the United Nations and Europe.

I have decided to become involved in the debate for the reasons that I mentioned. We need to build trust with the Iranian people and we need a bigger carrot as well as a heavier stick. I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government to do more to involve the Arab nations in our effort to get Iran to engage constructively in the future, because they have as much, if not more, to lose from a nuclear-armed Iran as we have.

We need to tighten sanctions, and to make it clear to Iran that we are serious. We must explain our position to the people of this country so that they understand exactly how serious the matter is, and that taking action now will avoid the violence that will come if we are weak or lack resolve.

Joan Walley (in the Chair): Order. It may be helpful to tell hon. Members that I hope that we can start the winding-up speeches at 10.30. I see no problem with that, but I remind hon. Members so that everyone can speak.

10.10 am

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I shall be brief. I had not intended to speak and came to listen, but having done so, I am moved to comment a little.

When introducing the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) described the regime in Iran as legitimate, by which I assume that he means that it was elected. Hamas was elected, but I do not recall the United States or the United Kingdom legitimising that regime on the basis that it was democratically elected, so I can only conclude that one man’s legitimacy is another’s terrorism.

The People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran and the National Council of Resistance in Iran have been consistently and variously described as terrorists by the British Government and others, and there is not much argument that they have engaged in terrorist activity in the past. Forgive me, but Jomo Kenyatta was a terrorist. Someone called Nelson Mandela was regarded as a terrorist, as were Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. But games move on, and if we are to look to the future of the middle east rather than the past, we must accept the fact that there are people of good will whose past is not admirable to us or even to some of them, but who have an important role to play. If we are talking about engagement, the time has come for the United Kingdom and European Governments to engage with those other organisations that are legitimate and have an interest in the democratic future of Iran.

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The British Government fought furiously against de-proscribing the PMOI. They resisted the findings of the European Court of Justice and tried every which way not to de-proscribe it, as indeed did the European Council of Ministers. The Foreign Secretary recently attended a meeting at which I was present on the Upper Committee corridor. When I asked him whether the organisation should be proscribed, he told me that I did not know all the facts. I do not know all the facts. I am not privy to the secret files of MI5, MI6 or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre apparently is, the State Department.

Mr. Wallace: They are on the website.

Mr. Gale: If they were on the website, they would not be secret. With great respect, I suggest that secret files are secret, and not published on the website. Irrespective of whether I have been privy to those documents, the Court was; those MI5 and MI6 documents were made available to the judges.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I was privy to the discussions in the European Court of First Instance when the barristers representing the PMOI SE repeatedly asked for that evidence, but it simply did not exist. We anticipated a long adjudication, but it came the next day, because there was no evidence to justify the continuation of the ban on the PMOI.

Mr. Gale: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There is evidence and evidence, but our Foreign Secretary—who am I to doubt him?—said that the information existed. If it did, it was made available to the High Court, and I attended some of the hearings. Our High Court judges are not blithering idiots, but they came down clearly in favour of de-proscription and said so clearly in their ruling. As a result, to be fair, the Government de-proscribed the PMOI.

The same thing happened in Europe. Notwithstanding the best endeavours of the United Kingdom Government to try to use the French Government to oppose the de-proscription of the PMOI by proxy—the French Government are still opposed to de-proscription— the Council of Ministers found in favour of de-proscription, so it has been de-proscribed. My understanding is that it is therefore no longer considered to be a terrorist organisation. The British Government’s secret service may regard it as such; the United States State Department may regard it as such; and for all I know, the Quai d’Orsay may regard it as such, but that does not make it a terrorist organisation today.

The PMOI and its supporters face a desperate situation in Ashraf city, where the Americans have handed control to the Iraqi Government on the understanding that the security of the residents will be maintained, but there are grave doubts. First, I would like an undertaking from the Minister on the record, in so far as he can give one—I appreciate that he may say that it is a matter for the Americans and the Iraqis, rather than us, but we have some influence in Iraq—that the Government will do everything to ensure that the residents of Ashraf city and the Iranians who are mainly supporters of the PMOI are secure.

Secondly, there is the small matter of PMOI funds, which are still frozen in France. The organisation has been de-proscribed, and the French Government are
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acting illegally, so will the Minister use such influence as he has in the European Union, particularly with the French, to ensure that those funds are released?

Thirdly, if we are to find a way forward, people must start talking to one another. Curiously, despite everything that I have said, I have no particular brief for the PMOI or the NCRI. I do not believe that they are the solution, but I believe that they have the potential to be part of the solution. I would like the PMOI, Pahlavi’s organisation and all those who wish to make a contribution to a genuinely democratic future for Iran to work together to secure what I believe we all want, irrespective of our position on the issue—free, fair, democratic and monitored elections in that country with respect for the outcome, whatever it may be. I would not want to predict at this stage what it might be. The people of Iran have a right to a democratic election, and then to adhere to its result.

Finally, will the Minister indicate whether the Government would look favourably on an application for a visa for Maryam Rajavi to visit the United Kingdom?

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