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Lord Russell-Johnston: My Lords, like many others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, for enabling the debate to take place. It is particularly timely because of the nuclear threat. He dealt with it sombrely as has been said, but directly and clearly, and I do not think that I can add much to his remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that we should realise how Iranians see us, given the interference for which we have been responsible. I do not dissent from that, but it is a profound mistake to regard the government in Iran as truly representative of Iranian opinion. We are dealing with a country where those espousing a fundamentalist form of Islam, which
 
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rejects all the tenets of liberal democracy, are in repressive control. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, described the consequences for human rights, especially women's rights. I do not need to repeat them, but a short paragraph from this month's Foreign Affairs sums up the position very well, and shows that there has been no new development. It states:

I repeat, nine—

a splendid judicial base on which to build a country.

The noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, has far more experience of these questions, but I do not see how we can have an effective dialogue with such a regime. All we can do is support those Iranians—perhaps the majority of its youthful population—who want an open and fair society.

As was said by the previous speaker, this task has been undertaken by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is a broad coalition, and which is publicly clearly committed to a democratic Iran with full religious freedom on a secular basis and human rights. I have witnessed the huge support for it among Iranians living in Europe, having taken part in rallies in Paris, where there were about 40,000 people and in Brussels where there were about 35,000. It was not reported by the BBC Farsi Service, which has been accused by the council of considerable bias. It is not a question of bias of the BBC in toto because there are no complaints about the Arabic Service or the World Service—only the Farsi Service.

The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, suggested that Iranians outside the country had only limited influence. With great respect, I query that. Mrs Rajavi is well regarded by many in Iran who admire her courage, tenacity and objectives. Her broadcasts have had great impact within the country. There was a moment when I thought that perhaps the Foreign Office would follow this route. I remind noble Lords of the moment when the late Robin Cook spoke of his wish for an ethical foreign policy. The mandarins in the Foreign Office quickly disposed of that idea, but it remains in the minds of many. The latest Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, admitted on the BBC last week that he agreed to have the PMOI proscribed as a terrorist organisation following a conversation with the Foreign Minister of Iran. That says it all. It is widely believed that that policy was part of the failed European Union attempt to persuade the theocratic regime to abandon its nuclear policy.

On Tuesday morning—the day before yesterday—I was in Luxembourg at the European Court of Justice when the case against the definition of the PMOI as terrorists was brought. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has set this out clearly, so I need not repeat what he said, except to say that I agree with
 
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him. It was made clear at the hearing that it happened because of British pressure. Britain was directly represented. There was a European Council advocate and there was a lady advocate representing the United Kingdom. She suggested that other member states agreed with Britain but refused to specify which they were, although she said that if she had been asked before, she would have been willing to give that information. We found that rather incredible. She stated that there were regular reviews of this question. When did the last review take place? When is the next review due? Lastly, she produced no justification for the classification of the PMOI; presumably it goes back to when it was acting as insurgents against the regime. It was undoubtedly engaged in hostilities at that time.

The Government should change their position. I know how difficult it is for any government to admit that they have been wrong. I understand the wish to get the regime to abandon its nuclear aims. Now, however, the Government must admit that the policy has been wrong and that the right thing to do is clearly to support the Iranians who want democracy.

1.41 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. This debate is both timely and vital.

The Minister will be delighted to know that my speech will be brief. Four simple questions need to be asked about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On two occasions, he has stated that Iran will wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. For the first time, one member of the United Nations is advocating the total annihilation of another member. Is this political posturing, or does he mean it? He has said that Iran is developing nuclear technology because Iranians need the capability to produce nuclear power, but Iran is a country swimming in oil. Why would it be making tremendous sacrifices to develop a technology that it could not conceivably need for 50 years? He absolutely denies that his country has any intention of developing nuclear weapons. But who believes him? Again, is this political posturing or does he mean it?

It has been reported that, having made a speech in which he denied that the Holocaust ever happened, President Ahmadinejad's government is this very week sponsoring a competition for the best cartoons depicting the Holocaust, in response to the sad Danish cartoon situation. Again, is this political posturing or does he mean what he says?

Finally, President Ahmadinejad says that he wants to promote a world Caliphate to be run by Iran. I ask again, is this political posturing or does he mean it?

I do not believe such statements are posturing. I believe them to be true. If they are true, we certainly have a very serious problem on our hands. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, makes a plea for patience, but time is running out. Some of those close to the matter believe that Iran will have its own nuclear bomb within the next 12 months. It is also developing
 
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ballistic capability. It is reported that Iran has tested rockets with a range of 1,500 km. Put bomb and rocket together, and political posturing no longer looks like rhetoric.

Let us look at the targets in Iran's sights. Coalition troops—British, American, Australian and others—are located just across the borders of neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are all within easy target. Finally, there is Israel—a country with no borders with Iran; indeed, a country separated from Iran by two intermediate countries.

If President Ahmadinejad means what he says, then he needs to be resolutely deterred from any mischief making. We need firm and sensitive diplomacy, but we also need to send him a very clear message that if Iran attacks any country the consequences for him and for his country will be severe and appropriate.

1.44 pm

Lord Dykes: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, both for the initiative in choosing this subject and for his wise words—the words of a sadly all-too gloomy, "head-shaking about the sins of the world" kind of former Foreign Secretary. One can understand why. Many of his points were extremely important and significant, and have been repeated on a number of occasions by other speakers in this debate.

I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, about the disturbing lack of UK press news on the subject. The same thing applies to the whole of the Middle East, and what is happening in Israel and Palestine. There is little detailed news in the British press. I know that it is expensive to have foreign correspondents in these hugely extended areas but, because Iraq is so dangerous, there is a concentration there. They stay in the green zone, and we get very little news from them. I am glad, as the noble Lord said, that the US is co-operating with the EU3. I will return to that in a moment.

We also thank the noble Lord, Lord Temple-Morris, for his wise words and his knowledge and experience of that country. Although he is a gentleman in every sense of the word—if I may embarrass him by saying so—he sounded suitably fierce about the present regime in Iran and what should be done about it. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Chidgey, for his wise words, as well as my noble friend Baroness Williams of Crosby. I only wish time would allow me to mention others.

We ask the Minister to give us some answers to the points that have been raised. However, that is easier to ask than to deliver—not because the Minister is not capable of doing so, but because nothing is more complicated and dispiriting than this looming crisis with Iran. For once, the West, as represented by the EU3 in this context, can be thanked for some exceedingly patient diplomacy. We can also thank the IAEA for having been so patient. Back in November 2003 the chairman was already giving
 
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solemn warnings about what Iran was doing in flouting its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

As a good European—I hope—I assert that it is not Europe's fault that no progress has so far been made. Indeed, the reverse is the case; it looks like a dispiriting failure. Europe—the EU3 and the whole of the Union—needs to be heavily engaged. In that context, we on these Benches fully support the Government and wish them well in dealing with these complex matters. All the options are fraught with difficulties. On the future nature of the Iranian governmental system, its so-called democratic structures are sometimes more robust than we imagine, mostly in demonstrations against the regime, when harsh measures are taken.

However, people note what is going on, even with the limited news. We see the oppressive straitjacket of the mullahs' regime alongside the mad ranting of President Ahmadinejad. Whether he means what he says is an interesting point, but the international community has a duty to ensure that what he has recently said, about Israel and so on, is never realised.

The Iranian diaspora is enormous and complex. Recently, even Reza Pahlavi—the son of the former Shah of Iran—has been making suggestions about democracy, despite the rather obnoxious features of his father's regime. We can perhaps take some of his suggestions with a pinch of salt; I hope I am not being unfair to the children of the former Shah.

Americans and others are rash to seek to intervene in such dangerous territory and tell them what to do. The future of Iran belongs to the Iranian people and their decisions will count. That should be the international norm, except if they need assistance from outside of a peaceful kind in which case we should ensure that they have it.

No one can just allow Iran's international defiance of reasonable requests to go on without the international community responding to the latent danger. Israel is understandably deeply alarmed at the potential nuclear threat if Iran goes ahead with the uranium enrichment in total defiance of the international proscription against it under the NPT. Equally, however, Israel would gain more worldwide respect—and in Arabia and Iran—if it, too, said that it was now going to adhere to the NPT and accept all the treaty obligations and duties arising from it. Why should Israel be the exception that causes a certain amount of anger and resentment in Arabia, Iran and elsewhere? Sensible Israelis know that and are well aware of it. Israel has understandably been made, by the United States, the unbeatable military power; to protect and defend itself, to ensure that it is not attacked, ruined or invaded. Nor is there any sign of anyone being able to do that. The quid pro quo is that Israel fully joins the international community and the UN Security Council in making general, collective rules of action and behaviour and suggestions for the peace of the whole area, including the development of the nuclear-free zone, as my noble friend
 
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Lady Williams said. That must be one of the priorities for the international community and the United Nations.

President Ahmadinejad, with his extraordinary outbursts—I suppose they are populist, rallying outbursts and therefore intended for national, internal consumption, but I presume that we all notice what he says—has done a real disservice to his people by hardening opinion against his country abroad in general. It makes it much harder for sensible Ministers—there must be some; I presume that one or two moderate mullahs are around as well—to prevail in that kind of climate. Gradually, the secular population will be forced against its will to support this eccentric president.

Now that Russia and China have joined fully in the criticism, and all five of the veto-bearing members of the United Nations Security Council are standing by for a possible resolution, which could include the imposition of sanctions, this is the critical moment. We therefore require guidance from the Minister about what the Government think can now happen. Will EU3 continue to operate just as a trio within the wider European Union in reporting to and liaising with the Security Council? Will the United States, which has been co-operating hitherto, continue to do that too and to reassure outside opinion that it will support what the whole of the United Nations Security Council decides, and not interfere in the wrong sense as it has in other countries? One is always worried about tendencies even in the Mark II Bush presidency. Some people would not readily agree that it is significantly different from Mark I, but we can leave that matter open.

I remember being in Baghdad in 1988, when it was full of American and British businessmen, politicians and officials who were saying that Saddam Hussein's government were the most wonderful government in the whole of Arabia. It was an efficient regime which bought a lot of our military equipment. They were very opposed to Iran. Even when the gassing in Halabja had taken place, we all recall the Americans saying that the Iranians had done that and not Saddam Hussein.

So our perceptions at a particular time can be misleading. We often regret them later on. Now is a time for collective wisdom in the United Nations and in the European Union's own deliberations about what to do. One welcomes also the opinion of the 10 new member states, including the two Mediterranean islands.

No one wants to alienate the Iranian people because of what they perceive as the basic, built-in unfairness of the wider picture. That is an important issue. Other countries are allowed to pursue nuclear energy and peaceful nuclear activity. The United States is perceived by many people in Iran as often flouting international rules of behaviour and law. Israel is doing exactly what it likes without restraint in the occupied West Bank. More and more people think that is because of a secret agreement between Bush and Sharon. Arabia and the wider Muslim world remain
 
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unimpressed by the continuing double standards about which the United Nations does all too little for all sorts of different mechanistic reasons.

However, Iran has to be realistic. Does it really need to do its own uranium enrichment? The answer is no. Why did it brush aside the Russian offer? I admit that it was probably made cynically, but it was a reasonable and genuine offer. If it wishes to resume its own peaceful activities, can those activities then be separated from the looming danger that they later turn into military activities? Those activities must be conducted under the non-proliferation treaty arrangements and full IAEA supervision. North Korea left the treaty, but Iran has so far wisely stayed in it. Surely, therefore, Iran needs the security guarantee package that has been proposed in the EU, in some quarters of the UN and elsewhere. That may be one of the main areas on which the Minister will enlighten us today. How will that package be constructed? Will he refer also to the question of possible sanctions?

In the mean time, do not let us antagonise Iranian moderates with premature sanctions until all diplomatic avenues have been exhausted beyond all reasonable doubt. Iran has a final opportunity to step back from nationalistic recklessness and to co-operate fully with the inspectors. Far from that being a humiliation, it is just the normal behaviour of any adherent to the NPT. That would avoid the loss of patience that the United Nations as a whole will inevitably feel if no Iranian response is forthcoming. The stakes are high, but the prize would be great if this turns out well.

1.56 pm


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