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Volume 450: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether she has received representations from the US authorities on measures to limit Iran’s access to international financial systems; and whether UK assistance has been requested in this regard. (93704)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials discuss Iran frequently with their US counterparts. They have discussed possible measures, including financial measures, that the international community might have available should Iran not come into compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency Board and UN Security Council resolutions. In resolution 1696, the Security Council made mandatory on Iran a suspension of all uranium enrichment related and reprocessing activities and expressed its intention to adopt appropriate measures under article 41 of the UN charter if Iran did not comply. Iran has not put in place a full suspension and the ‘E3+3’ (France, Germany, UK + China, Russia, US) are presently consulting on appropriate measures, as a first step towards wider consultations; decisions have not yet been taken.

Members of the US Administration have also briefed Ministers and officials, including from HM Treasury, on their concern that Iranian-owned banks are being used to facilitate the transfer of funds to organisations involved in terrorism and proliferation related activities. On 8 September, the US announced that it had taken measures to exclude Bank Saderat from the US financial system, on the grounds of its alleged involvement in transferring funds to terrorist organisations. US officials subsequently travelled to a number of countries, including the UK, to explain the US action and to underline the need for vigilance. The Government take the financing of terrorism and proliferation-related activities extremely seriously and will continue to work closely with the US and other countries to ensure that international financial markets are not abused.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what estimate she has made of the number of al-Qaeda operatives in custody within Iran; what recent discussions her representatives have had with the Iranian authorities regarding such people; and if she will make a statement. (93706)

An official Iranian statement in July 2005 recorded that Iran had 200 al-Qaeda members in custody. We remain concerned about al-Qaeda and its activities in Iran. In official contact with the Iranian authorities, we continue to urge Iran to take effective action against members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups using Iran as a base, transit route or refuge. We encourage Iran to do more to share information about the detainees with the international community.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment she has made of Iranian compliance with the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1373. (93707)

We believe that Iran should co-operate fully with the rest of the international community against international terrorism, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1373. We remain concerned that Iran is not doing more to share information. Iran has not matched its oral commitments to ratify new terrorism conventions. We believe the Iranian Government needs to demonstrate more fully that they are prepared to take action against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups using Iran as a base, transit route or refuge.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much has been spent on projects for the promotion of democracy and freedom of information in the Islamic Republic of Iran in each of the last five years; and if she will make a statement. (93708)

Encouraging respect for human rights and political freedoms is a key element of our approach towards Iran. We do not take sides in Iran's internal political debates—these are for Iranians themselves to resolve—but seek to promote the internationally recognised principles to which many Iranians aspire, including freedom of speech and transparent, genuinely democratic and accountable government.

In line with long-standing EU policy, we are committed to supporting political reform. We continue to support the development of governmental and non- governmental organisations where opportunities arise. We do not publicise the details without the consent of our Iranian partners. The EU has allocated around £4.4 million to projects in Iran under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights. Three projects, to which the EU has allocated a total of £2.9 million, are implemented by UN agencies. A further £1 million project was launched in January 2005. We are encouraging the EU to allocate more resources to support political reform under the EU's new financial perspective (2007 to 2013).

On 10 October, the Government announced that they would make resources available to fund a BBC Farsi TV service to be run by the BBC World Service. The service will cost approximately £15 million per year to run in addition to start up costs of approximately £9 million.