No prosperity without justice: the UK’s relationship with Iran Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Future of the Nuclear Deal

1.Disunity in addressing the nuclear issue, especially between the US and the E3, has not served the UK’s interests. Instead, it has disincentivised Iranian engagement with the West and presented an opportunity for Russia and China to pursue their respective agendas in the Middle East. In the absence of decisive leadership and multilateral cooperation going forward, there is a risk that Iran will turn further to Russia and China for the economic relief they can each offer at a knock-down political price. (Paragraph 15)

2.A significant weakness of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was its failure to prohibit Iran from developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads. In a treaty fundamentally designed to deliver non-proliferation assurances, it is entirely reasonable that the JCPOA should place a binding restriction on Iran from developing such missiles. (Paragraph 19)

3.Iran could be more forthcoming when granting access for IAEA inspections. Additionally, Iran has publicly stated it would not allow inspection of military sites, despite such visits falling within the terms of the JCPOA. These actions undermine political confidence in the nuclear deal, so additional penalties or provisions could be introduced to encourage a behaviour change. (Paragraph 21)

4.Annex I, Section Q, paragraph 78 of the JCPOA does not set out a definitive timetable for action in a potential period between non-compliance with the Joint Commission and the snapback of sanctions. This lack of clarity has proved contentious. Clarifying this section of the agreement would help to satisfy all parties that impediments to the IAEA’s access can be addressed within defined and reasonable parameter and could also serve as a useful confidence building measure. (Paragraph 22)

5.Given the historically covert nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, the lack of good faith it has shown in supporting the free and timely inspection efforts of the IAEA, and recent evidence indicating the military dimensions to its nuclear efforts of the early 2000s, we find it hard to envisage a time when an Iranian nuclear programme will have widespread support in the region. (Paragraph 24)

6.We agree with the Foreign Secretary that the nuclear deal is imperfect, but Iran’s non-compliance over the last year has indicated what the nuclear proliferation implications of terminating the JCPOA without a viable replacement might be. A more satisfactory arrangement for all signatories is within reach but is not guaranteed. We recommend that the Government takes the lead amongst the E3 in discussions in the New Year with the incoming US Administration on the future of the JCPOA. It should aim to bring all parties back into full compliance and address the concerns of Gulf allies initially overlooked by the JCPOA, specifically;

i)Ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads;

ii)Sunset clauses;

iii)Timely and public compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency inspection requests; and

iv)International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of undeclared nuclear sites and material.

The Government should be prepared to work with European and American partners to invoke the snapback of sanctions if full compliance is not achieved. (Paragraph 25)

7.We agree with the Government that its long-term goal should be to replace the JCPOA with a broader agreement which additionally addresses regional security. This must learn the lessons from last time and be held in consultation with our allies in the region, not just in Europe and the US. (Paragraph 35)

8.The UK’s history in the region, and relationship with the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, make it uniquely placed amongst the signatories of the JCPOA to build regional and international consensus on how to meet the challenges posed by Iran’s destabilising activity. This should form a core part of any strategy going forward to improve upon the JCPOA. (Paragraph 36)

9.We recommend that, in the aftermath of the Integrated Review, the Foreign Secretary makes a statement to the House to outline specifically what a replacement to the JCPOA should seek to achieve and over what timeframe. In so doing, the Foreign Secretary should address i) exactly what the UK wants to achieve from broader engagement with Iran, ii) which allies can facilitate and complement those discussions, and iii) how such an agreement will fit within the framework of the UK’s long-term strategic goals. (Paragraph 37)

Human Rights

10.BBC Persian promotes the shared interests of free people around the world. The treatment of its staff and their families by Iran is abhorrent, and the Government is right to continue to call out these abuses in international fora. (Paragraph 41)

11.Iran will choose to uphold those parts of international law which suit the tenets or strategic goals of the Islamic Republic while disregarding the remainder, often at the expense of the Iranian people. The FCDO has made commendable efforts to tackle Iran’s human rights abuses and raise the plight of victims of Iranian oppression through international fora. These efforts should be complemented through direct diplomacy with President Rouhani to encourage him to place human rights prominently on his domestic agenda. In particular, the freedom of BBC Persian staff to provide free quality journalism is of vital importance to Persian speakers throughout the region and should be prioritised. (Paragraph 45)

12.The Iranian people are the victims of the poor choices made by the Iranian state, yet they are too often a secondary consideration. The UK’s strategy going forward should rebalance this oversight. For the UK-Iran relationship to be meaningful and mutually beneficial, the UK must invest in strengthening cultural ties, fostering exchanges, and building upon common values shared with the Iranian people. (Paragraph 46)

13.We are satisfied that the actions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp meet the criteria for proscription in the Terrorism Act 2000 and see proscription as a logical extension of the existing restrictions placed on members of the IRGC by the EU’s sanctions regime. The IRGC’s philosophy and malign actions within Iran and across the region run counter to the interests of the UK and those of the Iranian people. We recommend that the Foreign Secretary works with the Home Secretary to assess the available information on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with a view to laying an order before Parliament to proscribe the IRGC in its entirety. (Paragraph 50)

14.The MacGregor Review offers the single best insight into the changes which need to be made within the FCDO to better equip it to deal with complex ‘consular cases’. We welcome the Government’s commitment to its recommendations but are concerned that this undertaking comes over a year since the review was finalised. We recommend that the FCDO continues to implement the recommendations of the MacGregor Review and provides the Committee with annual updates on its progress. (Paragraph 55)

15.The FCDO’s current approach to consular disputes is clearly not working. The Key Performance Indicator remains the unconditional and timely release of detained nationals. In this, the range of tools on offer is entirely ineffectual and requires revision. The FCDO needs to acknowledge this and use it as a basis for working with allies to develop an effective strategy which will adequately safeguard British citizens. (Paragraph 57)

16.The framework within which action over arbitrarily detained nationals can be taken is severely limited. The UK is not alone in not officially recognising the phenomenon of ‘State Hostage Taking’, but the FCDO should acknowledge that Iran’s transactional approach to diplomacy typifies a growing challenge democracies face when engaging with some autocracies. Calling ‘State Hostage Taking’ out for what it is and taking the lead in shaping a united international response would help yield additional tools to counter this behaviour. The FCDO should use the UK’s position at the UN to establish an ad hoc Committee to draft a complementary stand-alone addition to the 1979 Hostages Convention which defines ‘State Hostage Taking’ and prohibits its practice. (Paragraph 63)

17.Iran’s human rights record and selective commitment to upholding international law is a threat to the rules based international system generally, and a key challenge faced when aiding detained nationals specifically. The FCDO has admirably used international fora to exert pressure on Iran and to encourage a behaviour change, but a country which does not respect international norms will never be embarrassed into compliance. The time has come for a more robust approach. For its next round of Magnitsky-style sanctions, we recommend that the FCDO prioritises building watertight cases against human rights abusers based in Iran or acting for it abroad, including those involved in the arbitrary detention of UK and dual nationals. (Paragraph 65)


18.The UK has been most successful at securing its objectives vis-à-vis Iran when it has committed to a long-term strategy alongside international partners. However, the UK’s relationship with Iran is bigger than Iran’s nuclear violations, malign regional activity, or human rights abuses. It is also a relationship between cultures and peoples and the story of their shared interests. Consequently, the FCDO should be prepared to accept that the UK’s existing relationships with the E3 and US, while important, cannot offer the fullest structure for diplomacy. The FCDO needs a renewed focus on understanding the motivations behind the actions of the Iranian State, and a clear effort needs to be made to differentiate between the Iranian State and the Iranian people. (Paragraph 66)

19.Over the course of millennia, Persians have made significant contributions regionally and internationally to science, culture, poetry, maths and philosophy. The UK’s difficult relationship with the Islamic Republic has overshadowed its much longer relationship with Persia and the common ground values Britons share with Iranians. While it remains the right of the Iranian people to determine how they are governed, it equally remains the responsibility of the UK to call the Iranian State out for its human rights abuses where it falls short of international expectations. (Paragraph 67)

20.Engagement with Iran should not be an end goal in and of itself. Rather, engagement should seek to encourage Iran to play a positive, constructive and predictable role as a regional power, which uses international norms, respect for human rights and the rule of law as the basis for its actions. At its heart, a strategy must send a clear message: that Iran’s destabilising activities are unacceptable because they adversely impact the region and its peoples, but that when the time comes, the door is open to diplomacy. (Paragraph 68)

Published: 16 December 2020 Site information    Accessibility statement