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"Our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, without contributing to the suffering of ordinary Iranians".
It thus seems clear that the Obama Administration are not going gung-ho for a new round or an early escalation of major new economic sanctions. Do the Government also see a danger in additional early economic sanctions, in that they might serve to bolster President Ahmadinejad against the growing green movement? Might it be better to push harder with the engagement strategy and limit any future sanctions to targeted, smart sanctions against the main figures of the regime in Tehran?
Nobody is in favour of dumb sanctions; smart sanctions are obviously better than dumb ones. Sanctions need to be properly directed towards the objectives on which they are designed to have an effect. The hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent the American position. The choice that he poses between imposing sanctions and hurting the Iranian people or doing nothing does not appear to be the right approach.
There is a wide range of agreement on our need to explore the whole range of sanctions opportunities, because over the past three months Iran has made it clear that it is not willing to have the intensive dialogue with the international community that was called for and it has not given a positive response on the so-called Tehran research reactor deal, which would be one way of building confidence with the international community.
Mr. Davey: Will the Foreign Secretary be a little clearer on the Government's thinking on the type of sanctions that they wish to see? What weight do the Government put on the views of the opposition to the Tehran regime when they consider this matter? How does he assess the risk that major new economic sanctions across the board might assist Iran's Supreme Leader and President in resisting the internal opposition that they face?
David Miliband: Tempting as it is to give a public commentary on the sort of sanctions that are being developed, it would not be wise to do so. Let me give the hon. Gentleman one obvious example: when one is considering financial sanctions, it does not make sense to give six, eight or 10 weeks' notice to some of the entities that might be involved of the sort of financial sanctions that might be coming in. For obvious reasons, we have to make this a process that is conducted in private. However, I am telling the hon. Gentleman that we believe that financial sanctions, to take one example, have an important role to play in exerting pressure at the appropriate points in the regime and not affecting the Iranian people.
Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): Is it not true that the Iranian regime rejected a visit of Members of the European Parliament recently for fear that they might meet opposition politicians in Iran? [ Interruption. ] Will my right hon. Friend extend an invitation to opposition members in Iran to visit Britain to visit him as Foreign Secretary and will he offer the opportunity to Members of this Parliament to meet them?
David Miliband: I did not know about the visit by the European Parliament. In contrast to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I think that it is a good thing that the European Parliament takes an interest. He will also be pleased to know that the EU has imposed tougher sanctions on Iran than those mandated by the UN Security Council. That is one further example of the way in which Europe can play a constructive role.
I know what my right hon. Friend is saying about the importance of understanding the position of the Iranian opposition. Given the incessant attempts of the Iranian regime to brand the opposition as British or western stooges, we have to be very careful about how we engage with them. It is absolutely clear that this is an indigenous movement led by patriotic Iranians who want to see their society change. It is not the plaything of the international community.
Mr. Speaker: Order. The comprehensiveness of the exchanges is in many ways illuminating and useful to the House, but I must emphasise that there are a lot of questions that we need to get through and that we must make somewhat sharper progress.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Further to the exchange between the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), will the Foreign Secretary agree that smart sanctions that hurt the interests of the Iranian Government but not the ordinary people of Iran might include-these are things that one can talk about in advance-a ban on arms sales to Iran, a tough United Nations weapons shipping inspections regime and action against the interests of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? Will he say whether these are sanctions that the British Government will be in favour of, notwithstanding the objections of the hon. Gentleman on the Bench next door?
David Miliband: In the interests of a short answer, there is already an EU arms embargo that the Government were happy to vote for. That is a pretty clear indication that we consider that to be a worthwhile effort.
Mr. Hague: I was referring to what might happen at the United Nations. On that matter, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we have now reached a position where stronger sanctions from the UN on Iran are justified and necessary? Is it true that the lack of agreement at the UN Security Council means that there is now little prospect of a further UN resolution on this matter for several months? Do the British Government find that acceptable, and what action will they be taking to try to speed up the process?
David Miliband: Yes and no, Mr. Speaker. If you will permit me to give a slightly longer answer, yes, it is correct that the failure of the Iranian Government to give any kind of positive response to the suggestion of more talks to discuss their nuclear programme or former director general el-Baradei's proposal for a Tehran research reactor means that we have to consider a sanctions package, but, no, it is not right to say that there is no prospect of achieving that for several months. I think that it will take some time, but I do not believe that this can, should or will be punted into the long grass.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We continue to call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and I have discussed her situation with Burma's neighbours and the UN Secretary-General. We have made it clear that the elections cannot be credible if political prisoners are not free and able to engage in an inclusive process.
Rosie Cooper: While the world watches, Aung San Suu Kyi's appeal against her sentence is in its final stages. Can the Minister indicate what real chance there is that she will be released? What intelligence does he have on the situation?
I say to my hon. Friend that the charges were trumped up and the trial was bogus. In any decent, objective, reasonable criminal justice system, they would
have been thrown out, Aung San Suu Kyi would have been acquitted and we could have moved on. The reality is that we are not very optimistic about the regime and its behaviour towards Aung San Suu Kyi or the other 2,100 political prisoners.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): We have maintained international pressure on the Burmese regime. We have lobbied China, India and Association of South East Nations members to recognise that only free and fair elections will lead to a stable and secure Burma. We support the UN Secretary-General's continued engagement. Tough EU sanctions will remain in place in the absence of any progress.
Mr. Lewis: I am afraid to say that we have no expectation that international observers will be allowed to observe the election. It must be clear that without the release of political prisoners and a commitment to an inclusive process in respect of opposition and ethnic groups, the forthcoming elections in Burma will not be recognised by the international community-indeed, they will be entirely illegitimate.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that not only do we expect openness, transparency and people to be able to watch the election, but more importantly, we expect the democratic result to be accepted and the military junta not to interfere in the end result?
Mr. Lewis: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. There is only one difficulty: the constitution that underpins the election is deeply flawed. It is designed to perpetuate military rule in Burma. It is therefore important that there is no interference in the elections. As long as the elections are contested on the current constitution, whatever the outcome they cannot be recognised by the international community.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Do we not have to be realistic and realise that the elections will inevitably not be fair and democratic, but that they nevertheless present a real challenge for democracy campaigners within Burma? Will the Minister take his lead from the democracy movement, in particular the NLD, in determining the approach that is to be taken by this country in relation to the conduct and the outcome of the elections?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right. It is not for us to determine the decision by the opposition parties whether to participate in the forthcoming elections. It is equally important that the entire international community gives a united response to any election outcome. If there were any suggestion that some members of the international community attempted in any way
to legitimise that outcome, that would be very dangerous in terms of strengthening the regime. What we seek to achieve is maximum unity of response on the basis that the election will be fought on a flawed constitution.
The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): Reform of the EU budget was last discussed at the December European Council. Heads of Government called on the Commission to produce a report in order for the Council to lay out its priorities during 2010. The Government remain committed to far-reaching reform of the EU budget.
Mr. Hollobone: When Tony Blair abolished Margaret Thatcher's rebate, we were promised significant reform of the EU budget and of the common agricultural policy, instead of which Britain's membership fee for the European Union has more than doubled, there is no significant reform to the common agricultural policy, and EU accounts remain dodgy at best. Is this not another broken promise by a failed Labour Government?
Chris Bryant: If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about broken promises, he should speak to the leader of his own party. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is pretty depressed by the end of the cast-iron guarantee, but he should not mischaracterise what happened. The abatement still exists. It is worth billions of pounds for the UK. We, however, not only willed the end-namely, the enlargement of the European Union-but we were also prepared to will the means, by being prepared to pay an element of the advantage that other countries coming into the EU would provide to the UK in the form of trade and jobs.
Chris Bryant: I think that all citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland get a very good deal out of the EU. It guarantees jobs, and more than 50 per cent. of this country's trade is wholly dependent on our membership of the EU. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take Britain out of the EU, he should table a motion. [ Interruption. ]
The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant):
Last week's talks in Cyprus were a positive start to intensified negotiations. The Prime Minister has spoken, I think,
to both leaders this week. We remain a keen supporter of the Cyprus settlement process and continue to believe that it presents a unique opportunity to solve this historic and difficult problem.
Mr. Wright: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that there are hundreds of Greek Cypriots in my constituency who will welcome the talks continuing. However, one thing to be regarded as a success in Cyprus is the Committee on Missing Persons, which is bi-communal. It has been supported by significant funding from across the international community, and has been hugely successful-indeed, only last year one of my constituents, Andrew Michael, was able to find closure when he went to the island to bury his father, who had been missing. Will my hon. Friend the Minister give me an assurance that the funding for this important project-from both the UK and the international community-will continue?
Chris Bryant: I visited Cyprus last year. When I was there, I met the people who run the Committee on Missing Persons. The important forensic work that they do is very moving, and my hon. Friend is right to say that it gives people an opportunity to find closure through knowing what happened many years ago.
The Minister will be aware that elections are due in northern Cyprus in April, and that not all the candidates are fully behind the current talks process, so there is a danger that the window for achieving a lasting settlement is beginning to close. Given that, what more can Britain do to encourage all the parties, including the Turkish Government, to demonstrate greater flexibility, so that this truly important opportunity to achieve a lasting settlement for Cyprus is not lost?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that this is a very important moment. The two leaders have known each other for many years, and both have staked their political careers on trying to come to a resolution of a situation on the island that feels both tragic and morally indefensible. I was in Istanbul this weekend, when I spoke to Egemen Bagis and argued with him about the need for Turkey to implement the Ankara protocol, to which it has already signed up. It is clearly important that we do our job of work in persuading both Greek and Turkish counterparts to do their fair share, but the proposal that we have put on the table is that 50 per cent. of the land currently in UK sovereign bases will be made available to a united island, once there is a resolution.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I am glad that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) is learning the art of asking questions. We will give him a lot of practice for many years to come, I think.
Iran continues to refuse to engage in a constructive manner with the international community. We have been ceaseless in seeking better relations with Iran, and the E3 plus 3 group has made a serious offer for widespread co-operation on the basis of international rules. Despite this, Iran refuses to heed five UN Security Council resolutions, continues to deny its own citizens' human rights, and supports armed groups in the region.
On Saturday, the Chinese effectively kicked into the long grass the effort by the E3 plus 3 to impose a new round of sanctions when they sent a junior delegate to the meeting in the UN. Given that China has faced two ways on arms sales, oil imports and now on sanctions on Iran, is it not about time that the countries that want to try and resolve the issues to do with Iran seek more imaginative options? Will the Secretary of State let the House know what other options he may consider?
David Miliband: I counsel the hon. Gentleman very strongly not to fall for the propaganda that says that the E3 plus 3 has failed to come to a united position; the truth is the opposite. All six countries agreed that now was the time to assess which sanction options were the right ones to implement. It may comfort President Ahmadinejad to dwell on who attended for the Chinese at the meeting on Saturday, but the Chinese commitment and representation was absolutely clear. At no stage was there any suggestion from them that they want either to opt out of the E3 plus 3 unity or to deny the progress that needs to be made. Iran is isolated on this issue, not China or the United Kingdom, and we should stick to that position.
Michael Fabricant: Last month the Iranians successfully test fired a new long-range missile capable of hitting targets in Israel and United States bases in the middle east. That, combined with their nuclear programme, is a very frightening nexus, indeed. Are we not sleepwalking towards a major war in the middle east? What steps can the Government take to avoid that?
David Miliband: It is important that we are clear about the dangers posed by the Iranian's nuclear programme and their other activities in the region. Equally, we must not talk ourselves into-the hon. Gentleman used the word "war", which is a very dangerous word to use, especially in the middle east. It is quite the wrong time to believe that diplomacy cannot resolve the issue. It is clearly in the interests of the Iranian people to seek proper relations on the basis of international rules with the international community, and that is why we are absolutely committed to the diplomatic track and believe that it can work. The truth is that the Iranian people do not have an argument with the rest of us, and we must make sure that we do not start one.
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