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Volume 488: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mark Tami.)

I sometimes point out to the Whips that I follow a different clock, but they never seem to agree with me.

It is a great opportunity to have this debate on Iran. Perhaps this year more than any other it is vital to examine our policy towards Iran and consider where in our history we have failed, what we are really trying to achieve and whether we are going about it in the right way. I shall consider three different points: how to build trust, who to engage with and whether our current policies are working.

Over the next 12 months in Iran, there will be presidential elections, there is the potential for the first civil nuclear power station to come on line and there is the real and threatening possibility of enough nuclear material to make at least one nuclear bomb being in the hands of Iranians. If we consider those points alongside the fact that there is a new American Administration, a collapse in the oil revenues and a worsening security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think that we would all agree that the short-term challenges are considerable, to say the least.

I have been the chairman of the all-party group on Iran for more than two years. In that time, we have heard from a range of experts on Iran—contributors from the US Government, ambassadors, academics and trade unionists. Some contributors were pro the current Iranian regime, some were against, and some just wanted to share their wisdom. Only last month, we met a delegation of Iranian MPs from the Majlis, and more recently we met the Syrian ambassador. I visited Tehran with two of my colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), in July and I am due to go again soon. Our meetings are well attended by all parties and those from both Houses.

It is tempting to start with the usual speech about how historical and cultural the country is. I have heard it many times and it usual predicates the tit-for-tat rhetoric that we so often hear when dealing with Iranian issues. I think that it is sufficient to say that Iran is an ancient cultural and strategic power that we cannot afford to ignore or to fail in our efforts to improve relations with. The new world order needs Iran to become not only a member, but a player. Too many of our discussions about Iran are bogged down in the past. We should start by recognising that Britain’s role in Iran over the past century has, on balance, been more harmful than benign to many of the people of Iran. We have made mistakes. It was wrong of us to back Saddam Hussein in the horrendous Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Insult was added to injury when the indictment against Saddam Hussein only dealt with his crimes against Iraqis; no mention was made of the gas attacks on Iranian civilians and military forces.

Even though I was only eight at the time of the revolution and 10 during the Iran-Iraq war, I was deeply struck on my recent visit in July by how that conflict dominates so much of Iran’s society today. The tragedy of our policy in the west is that we still do not see Iran as it sees itself, and we have not communicated enough for Iranians to understand the way that we do see it. Too many people stopped the tape when the hostage crisis finished in January 1981, and as the Islamic revolution entrenched and western opposition hardened, it became in the interests of too many people in the US and Iran to maintain hostilities. Revolutionary hard-liners needed a bogey man to continue the momentum and consolidate their control inside Iran. The west wanted revenge for the loss of their placeman, the Shah. To this day, the revolution is used by many to justify policies on both sides. Such policies have failed to give Iran its place in the world and have also failed to ensure a stable middle east.

As a 38-year-old, it would be easy to feel old in Iran where the average age is 26, but, like most of its population, I just about have the luxury of youth when it comes to setting aside the past and focusing on the future. I have hopes for a richer, better Iran, just as I have hopes for a better Britain. So, let us talk about the future. In my dealings with Iranians, I have learned that the heart of the issue is trust. We do not trust them, and they do not trust us. Do they have cause to mistrust us? It is a matter of public knowledge that Iran helped us to bring down the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. We have failed spectacularly to deal with the resulting explosion in the heroin crop that all too often finds it way on to the streets of Iran and its major cities.

Let us imagine what Iranian politicians feel when we try to do deals with so-called Taliban commanders whose day jobs are as drugs barons. However, when our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are killed by devices incorporating Iranian components, we rightly feel that Iran exports terrorism. On the nuclear issue, Iran suspended enrichment in 2004 in the hope that the United States would engage, but unfortunately it was snubbed. Iran might ask why it should do it again. There are numerous examples on both sides. Do I think that Iran will admit its role or that the UK Government will admit their failures? I very much doubt it. We often dance around the rhetoric, and many of us have met representatives of the Iranian regime and members, and have sat for hours listening to the tit-for-tat rhetoric with little getting done apart from drinking coffee. The choice is simple: we can dance around the matter, or we can move in favour of starting afresh.

How do we build trust? We can start by accepting that whatever we think of the Iranian Government, we must accept that they are a legitimate authority. Even among Iranians who oppose the Islamic revolution or the current President, there is an acceptance that the Government in Tehran rules by consent. We should not engage in regime change or seek to subvert the Administration. If necessary, we should be prepared to guarantee their security. We must recognise that Iran has rights, while at the same time supporting all its peoples’ rights—and by “all” I mean rights relating to faiths, genders and race. Iranian rights and human rights can be compatible.

There are other issues that need resolving. At home, we are faced with pressure from some to de-proscribe the terrorist group the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq—or the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran. The PMOI group has been active in terrorism since the 1970s, both inside and outside Iran. We should not forget that in the 1970s, it killed a number of US citizens and supported the storming of the embassy in Tehran. As well as acting as Saddam’s death squads inside and outside Iraq, the PMOI has consistently waged attacks on the Iranian Government. As recently as January this year, the US Department of State reconfirmed the MEK as being a foreign terrorist organisation. I know that the UK Government support that listing and I implore them to keep the group proscribed, whatever it takes.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate and I apologise for missing the first minute of it. We have been through this matter and had debates on the proscription of the PMOI, and universally the British courts and subsequently the European courts have decided to de-proscribe it. What evidence does he have that it continues to be a terrorist organisation?

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the terrorism legislation of 2000, he will know that many of the court rulings are based on the legislation on proscribing an organisation. I think that proscribing is flawed. United States legislation is allowed to take on board whether the organisation still has the intent to cause acts of terror. Given that most of the leadership of the MEK and PMOI has not changed over a considerable period, it is not right to de-proscribe it. Of course, I respect the rule of law and therefore if the courts have said that, we have to follow the rules of the court. However, I implore the Government to reassess their terrorist legislation to ensure that when we proscribe organisations, we do so not just on the basis of what they seek to do at the current time, but on what they seek to do in the future and have done in the past.

My hon. Friend said that the PMOI has been involved in terrorism since the 1970s. The High Court in the United Kingdom has heard all the evidence. Some of us were present in court but did not hear all the evidence because some of it was heard in camera. So the court heard all the evidence, as has the European Court, which has concluded that since 2002, the PMOI—the MEK—has not been involved in terrorism. What possible justification does my hon. Friend have for the remarks he has made?

The statement I made in my speech about the activity of the PMOI comes from the Department of State’s recent listing, in which it gives its reasons for proscribing—[Interruption.] I consider US intelligence to be important in making these decisions. Having personally been involved in actions against the Provisional IRA and the IRA, I recognise that the past is just as important as the future. I would be interested to know whether my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) voted for our colleagues in Sinn Fein to receive allowances when the matter was raised in the House. I suspect that—[Interruption.] That person did not, given that he is not an active member of a terrorist organisation, although I am sure that in the past he was. I would like to move on.

It is important that we recognise that the PMOI and the MKO represent a dangerous organisation at the very heart of Iran, no matter what people’s views are on the regime. In fact, the supreme leader himself was blown up by the PMOI and lost one of his arms, and the second President of the Iranian Republic was killed. Imagine what Conservative Members would think of any deal with the IRA, had it been successful in killing half the Cabinet in the Brighton bombing. We must recognise that there are terrorist groups in Iran that would not help the cause, let alone move it forward.

The second question is, with whom do we do business with in Iran? People often ask me that because Iran, which does not have a political system like ours—no parties, no party leadership—is often driven by personalities and factions. Some would like to posture around the Iranian President, and some Iran watchers are toying with the idea of waiting for a new, perhaps more moderate President.

From the outside, no matter what Presidents look like or say, we should remember that the nuclear programme has gone on under reformist and conservative Presidents. We should recognise that the Iranian constitution makes it clear that power in Iran is nearly always, and always has been, with the supreme leader. It is the words and actions of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that, in the end, can help forge a resolution. Constitutionally, it is he who controls the levers of the state—the courts, the media and the revolutionary guard—and even the President and Foreign and Defence Ministers must be vetted by his office.

My message to the new Administration in Washington and to the Government is to try to go to the top. Let us try to speak directly to the supreme leader. Let us ask him to put aside his role of speaking only to heads of Muslim countries, and to try to engage directly with the United States and to put aside historical preconditions, because that is the way to get some real resolution.

Perhaps because Iran is a revolutionary state, or perhaps because it is not governed by a party political system, parties, personalities and slogans take centre stage. Observers find it hard to distinguish gesture politics from real politics. A good example of the gap between official speak and actions is that in Iran it is illegal to have a satellite dish, but everyone has one. One can see them on driving down any road. As one diplomat once said, there is something very French about the Iranians.

If people believed every slogan, they would certainly think that they would be in danger going anywhere in Iran, but that is not the case. The Iranian people are friendly, approachable and engaging. We have to distinguish between slogans and reality. We are, perhaps, safer in Iran than in Saudi Arabia, so let us not get hung up on inflammatory statements made by the current President Ahmadinejad or on the “death to America” day, an annual event to which I have not yet been invited. If I can live with a Bobby Sands avenue outside a British embassy, I am sure that other people can live with other gimmicks.

Perhaps the real hints to where Iran is are in the writings of supreme leader Khamenei. On the subject of future engagement with the US, only last year he said to students in Yazd:

“However we have never said that the relations”—

with America—

“will remain severed forever…Undoubtedly, the day the relations with America prove beneficial for the Iranian nation, I will be the first one to approve of that.”

Regrettably, like several Islamic leaders, the supreme leader does not recognise the state of Israel, and that is a bad step for Iran and other nations. We must deal with today, and I agree with the right of Israel to exist. However, his words are not the same as the inflammatory language of the current President.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s language might not be the same, but the hon. Gentleman has already said that he is the supreme leader, and that he is the one who influences everything that goes on in that country. If he does not agree with the inflammatory language of the President, why does he not do something about it?

There are two things to say on that. First, Presidents come and go, and there is no history of supreme leaders intervening with Presidents. It would not be in the interest of the supreme leader domestically to do that. However, when it comes to determining the significance of the threat from Iran, we need to look to the supreme leader rather than the President. The man who has the authority to declare war is the supreme leader, not the President. The constitution will guide us as to exactly when we should be worried about statements by Iranian leaders.

The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech. He has huge expertise in this area, and I want to ask his opinion. As he just said, the supreme leader has written that he would be open to engagement with America if it were to change its approach to Iran. Does he think that an opening-up to America and the west by Iran could potentially undermine the Iranian leadership and threaten its theological underpinnings and that, therefore, it might walk away, or does he think that it is more confident than that and that it is prepared to engage, even if that meant much greater opening-up to the west and interchange with it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I would agree with the latter suggestion. The supreme leader recently made an exception to his rule and met President Putin. Although President Ahmadinejad may feel undermined—we must remember that he came to power on a wave of nationalism and cheap shots—the supreme leader has realised that his strategy has failed. Iran has been weakened, and it has not made any friends in the middle east. The arguments between Egypt and Iran over the Hamas-Gaza problem demonstrate that Iran has become less popular in the middle east than it was at the start of the presidency.

The supreme leader is the one who can move things forward. I do not think that his position would be weakened hugely if he made such an attempt. Of course, Iran can always say no afterwards. It is the preconditions to engagement that have often held up talks—the requirement that Iran suspend its nuclear programme before talks, that kind of thing—and they do not move the process on. I am optimistic, but I do not underestimate the threat to Israel from Iran. I am not trying to say that it is all a bed of roses, or that the threat is a fiction—it certainly is not. There is a threat to Israel from Iran, and we have to deal with it in short time, before Israel exercises its right of self-defence.

The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech. In trying to build relations, gestures and actions are important, particularly in that part of the world. He will know that Iran’s uranium enrichment programme could eventually lead to nuclear weapons. Does he think that if this country, given its long-term non-proliferation objectives, were to put the Trident decision on hold, such a gesture would help Iran to further its future objectives on the weaponisation of its uranium?

First, my understanding of Trident replacement is that it will still mean a reduction in the number of warheads, so it is a move in the right direction. Secondly, even if one were advocating the suspension of Trident replacement, that is not the same as advocating unilateral disarmament. I do not think that the gesture would work.

One could argue that western nuclear powers developed their weapons in the 1950s because of fears of instability. Certainly the French felt that it was vital for them to find their place in the world and achieve stability in what had been a very unstable Europe. Perhaps that is one of the factors that drives some of Iran’s neighbours to want nuclear weapons. Some may believe that a nuclear weapon will give them stability and a place at the top table. There are better ways of doing that, but, if my neighbours were Pakistan and Afghanistan, I would feel pretty unstable. I am sure that all of us would. However, the supreme leader is the man to do business with; history shows us that it is not the President.

What message can I give to Iran? What do the Iranian people need to hear from us to understand us better? First, the days of imperialism are over. Britain and the US do not want to make the Iranian people subjects, or to fill their country with spies and terrorists, which is often the first defence; we want Iran to be our friend. Iran must recognise that our fear of a nuclear bomb is born of the very modern desire for stability in the region.

I often ask myself why we in the west are so close to Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, when Saudi Arabia gives to Christians, Jews and everybody else fewer rights than even Iran does, and is less safe for us than Iran. Why is it that, over the years, we have been so close to Saudi Arabia? I am not even sure that Saudi Arabia officially recognises Israel either, so the only answer that I can come up with to my question is stability. Saudi Arabia provides stability in the region, and if Iran recognises that stability is the answer, it will also recognise that in today’s west, we value that currency more than anything else.

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?

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.

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?

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, 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 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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?

Like the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), I did not intend to take part in this debate, and I apologise for having to leave a few minutes early, so I shall have to read what the Minister says.

I want to concentrate on the narrow but important domain of human rights. The greatest condemnation of the mullahs’ regime should be reserved for their dreadful human rights record. I remind hon. Members that that state is probably second only to China in the number of people it kills by capital punishment, and there is an argument that it may kill more people than any other state. The hon. Gentleman referred to the way in which it conducts those punishments. Hanging people publicly from various capital equipment is horrific, and last Saturday’s Daily Mirror shows graphically the 59 people who were hanged in January.

Whatever else one thinks about Iran, it is a great nation. It is not Arabic, but consists of Farsi-speaking people. We should always respect it and want to work with it, but until it improves its human rights record, it is up there with the nations that I feel deeply about—including Sudan, Zimbabwe and so on—because of the way it subjugates its people.

As has been said, do not be a member of the opposition in Iran, because people who are have every chance of being arrested, imprisoned and subsequently hanged. Do not be a Baha’i. I was pleased to see early-day motion 937 on that issue, tabled by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). Again, the Baha’i are being singled out for mistreatment, arrest and worse.

I was also pleased to see in today’s Hansard that the Minister has answered the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on how many representations he has made to Iran on behalf of Christians. He said that he had made more than 40 representations. Do not be a Christian in Iran. Those are minority religions, but they are important religions. If we were mistreating Muslims in this country, I would expect us to be held to account in the court of world justice. Iran does it, because it appeals to the mob, and that has to stop.

Does the hon. Gentleman share what I am sure is the concern of the whole Chamber about the position on juvenile executions? The Minister, to his credit, has raised the issue and has had assurances from the Iranian ambassador that, in October 2008, there was a decree outlawing juvenile executions, yet there have been reports since then that that practice still happens in Iran.

It does, and again there is no effective defence for people.

The other issue, besides human rights, is the failing Iranian economy. In a sense, the suppression mirrors the economic failings. I know that in these times, when the whole world seems to be in difficulties, we can perhaps exaggerate the difficulties in other parts of the world to make ourselves feel less worried about our own situation, but there is an economic crisis in Iran, and it has resulted in even more pressure from the centre to deal with any form of opposition.

Iran is, of course, an oil economy: as the price of oil has collapsed, it has been able to earn far less revenue. It also has very high inflation, and the public of Iran are therefore hit both ways. We know that there is great unhappiness. Anyone who studies Iran will know that there are regular street demonstrations, until they are put down. There is a lot of insurrection on university campuses, but of course the secret service ensures that that does not last long. Even within the regime itself, there is a split between the hard-liners and the more liberal element, represented by Khatami. It is reputed that he will make another attempt to run for the presidency, but at the moment Ahmadinejad seems to have the support of the great leader Khamenei. That will probably mean that he is likely to win any election.

I shall finish by echoing the remarks of both my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) and particularly the hon. Member for North Thanet. There are concerns among those of us who would be quite proud that we have supported the Iranian opposition that we need to look at what is happening to the PMOI in Ashraf city. I ask the Minister to examine carefully what is happening now that the Iraqi Government have taken responsibility, to ensure that there is no revenge against the people there and particularly to ensure that they are not doing the bidding of the Iranian Government, because that would be a tragedy and a negation of some of the things that they have done.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet reminded us about the nuclear situation. Without the PMOI and the NCRI, we would not necessarily have known about the enrichment going on at Natanz. They did immeasurable good in announcing that to the world. That is where the process started of trying to get Iran to understand that it is not acceptable behaviour. I ask the Minister to consider that issue and to consider the general issue of human rights.

It is right of Parliament to look at parts of the world where the human rights record is abysmal. We should never be frightened to highlight such things. Even though we continue to talk and do business with people and we want to bring them into the great body of democracies, we can never do that until they improve their human rights record, so that it is at least tolerable. At the moment, the one that we are discussing is absolutely unacceptable.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) on securing the debate and on introducing it in such an intelligent and informed manner. I agreed with a great deal of what he said. It was almost like coming to a seminar, and I am particularly grateful to him for that. I plan to go to Tehran, but perhaps I should go to Thanet, where there is clearly a lot of expertise on Iran.

No doubt. I was particularly interested in what the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) said about Iran’s negative influence on many parts of the middle east, which is a huge worry. I should say that it has not just been a worry with the current regime, as over the centuries, the Iranians have undertaken their foreign policy in that way. Rather than foreign conquest, which many Iranian rulers have never gone for, partly because of the geography that the regime is dealing with, the country’s mountainous nature, its supply lines and so on, Iranian leaders have tended almost to conduct their imperial ambitions by proxy. That does not make it right, but it is a typical approach by the Iranians, and one has to understand how they work, both historically and in the current regime, if one is to deal with them.

The only point that has not come out in the debate so far is the urgency of the Iranian question. Much of the evidence suggests that the Iranians could be close to being able to produce a bomb. Recently, we have seen reports saying that they have enough low-enriched uranium to build a dirty bomb. When I speak to people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel and to the Foreign Office in this country, my impression is Iran could be a year, or perhaps two or three years, away from having enough highly enriched uranium to make the sorts of weapons that would be particularly threatening and destabilising, leading to the proliferation across the region about which everyone is rightly concerned. Even if they are not going to go to weaponisation by getting the highly enriched uranium and putting it in a missile, they will be near to what is known in the terminology as break-out. They could keep within the rules of the non-proliferation treaty, but within three months, get themselves weaponised and break out in the way other countries have done in the past. The potential for them to get to that threshold creates a dynamic, particularly with Israel but also with other countries, that is very destabilising, so this is not just a theoretical discussion. It is something that we could be dealing with as a country and as a world very soon.

The question is how we approach the issue. There will be two major events in the next six months that relate to that question. The first and most important is the conclusion of the review undertaken by the new President of the United States. We are told that later this month the Americans will decide their new policy and tell us all about it. Clearly, that is critical in how we develop our policy. The other big event is the Iranian elections. I think that they are slightly less important to the development of our policy, partly for the reasons that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre discussed. Even if President Khatami returns and defeats Ahmadinejad in the elections—it looks as if that will be the contest—he maintained the nuclear programme under his presidential leadership before, so the nuclear issue will not go away, even after the election. Understanding what the Americans will do is therefore critical.

What must the Americans be thinking, what questions must they be asking themselves and how should the Foreign Office interact with their review, as I hope that it is doing? There are a number of issues to consider. First, there are the sanctions, then there are the negotiations and the preconditions, and, finally, there is the rhetoric, which can be important. On sanctions, we and the Americans have to ask ourselves whether the current sanctions regime is working, and the answer is clearly that it is not. There are therefore only two options. First, we could strengthen the regime, because we think that it could work politically but we need to plug the gaps in the way that the hon. Member for South Thanet said, getting the Chinese, Russians, Austrians, Cypriots, Italians and all the others who have been mentioned to sort themselves out and creating a regime that brings Tehran to book, so that it will listen to us. That is a possibility, but it is clear from my description that it might not be as easy as some would hope. That option should certainly be considered, because sanctions regimes can work, but they must be rather more far-reaching than the current one.

The alternative view is that sanctions might not work. We might regret that, but we should perhaps look at another way of doing things. Perhaps sanctions are sending the wrong political message and preventing engagement. I genuinely do not know, but that is a matter for debate, and we need to ask the Americans how they will proceed. There is genuine concern that the sanctions regime is ineffective and, arguably, counter-productive. We then come to negotiations. Her Majesty’s Government have done an awful lot of work through the E3 plus 3 to get negotiations off the ground, and I pay tribute to them for doing so. On the face of it, Iran has been offered some fantastic deals and economic inducements, but, again, that does not appear to be working, and one has to ask why. Again, I am not sure and I am speculating, which is why I was particularly interested in what the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre had to say.

Part of the problem is understanding why Iran wants nuclear power or, indeed, why it wants the prospect of being able to get a nuclear bomb or to get a nuclear bomb itself. Is it because Iran wants to attack the rest of the world—perhaps Israel or somewhere else? Is it because it feels particularly insecure and thinks that it will be attacked? It has seen the American army in Iraq, and NATO in Afghanistan. It has also seen the instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it knows that Israel has a bomb. Perhaps the Iranian leadership is worried that someone might attack it—let us face it, there has been an open debate about whether Israel would attack it, and we thought at one time that President Bush’s Administration might do so. Iran may therefore want to arm itself because it fears being attacked.

Another reason, which is presented as more potent for Iran in some of the material that I have read, is that Iran is seeking stature and status; it wants to show that it has arrived in the modern world. It believes that it has a proud Persian past and it thinks, “If everyone else has these things, why can’t we?” We have to understand that. Whether we like the regime or not, and even though we might think that it is appalling, we have to understand where it is coming from and why it wants to pursue its present course, even though we may find it distasteful. If we are to move the regime from its present course, we have to meet that status issue in some other way in our negotiations. We therefore really have to engage in the negotiations. Some Democrats in the US are talking about a diplomatic surge being required to get the negotiations going, and they may well be right.

A key issue for the negotiations, which the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre touched on, is the preconditions that we set. The current preconditions—in effect, that Iran must cease enrichment—are clearly not working, because nothing is happening. Despite all the inducements, the cessation of enrichment condition is not working. In some of the academic material and diplomatic debates, we have seen that preconditions can be finessed and tweaked, and that is clearly an option in the review. We have heard about the freeze-for-freeze option, under which we will freeze sanctions if Iran freezes enrichment. Several years ago, the International Crisis Group talked about a phased delay, with the west saying, “Yes, of course you have the right to enrich, but we want to negotiate with you and we want you to delay enrichment.” Such an approach would recognise Iran’s status, but get rid of the precondition that prevented negotiations.

The Americans’ review may look at those preconditions, and they may decide to drop them all, as the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre hinted. Candidate Obama certainly talked about that, although he got a lot of flak from the Republicans and slightly switched his position. However, he talked about negotiations with the Iranians with no preconditions, and I imagine that the Americans are reviewing that option.

I have dealt with the sanctions review and the negotiations, and I will finish with the rhetoric. Whatever the review decides, we have to tone down our rhetoric. Iran has rightly been criticised for some of the rhetoric in which it has engaged. That is particularly true of Ahmadinejad, whose rhetoric has been absolutely appalling—particularly the things that he said about Israel. However, I should quote former Vice-President Cheney, who said about Iran:

“We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.”

The rhetoric is on both sides. The “axis of evil” rhetoric is not helpful, and we have to ensure that we drop that nonsense from our approach.

This is an incredibly complex and nuanced debate. Besides the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre, and perhaps the hon. Members for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and for South Thanet, there are few people in the House who really understand all the levels. However, we tend to reach consensus on the issue in our debates, and I hope that we can take that forward so that Britain has the influence that it should have, particularly with the new American Administration.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) on securing the debate. There could hardly be a more important foreign affairs topic and one more deserving of debate in the House.

British policy towards Iran should be based first and foremost on a hard-headed and pragmatic assessment of where the British national interest lies. That interest certainly lies in seeing Iran once again become engaged as part of the mainstream of the international community. Several hon. Members have talked about the impact of economic change on Iran. Anybody who has been to Iran and experienced the planned power cuts every day or looked at the half-mile queues outside filling stations in that oil-producing country will have some awareness of the economic pressures that are biting on ordinary Iranian families.

There is no doubt that, with 60 per cent. of the population under 30, there is a tremendous appetite for economic growth and educational development, and for Iran to become part of the world once again. However, as my hon. Friend and others have said, the political obstacles in the way of that re-engagement are formidable, and the time available—particularly given the crisis over nuclear policy—is very limited.

As I look at Iran, I see a country that takes enormous pride in its history and cultural achievements. There is perhaps a parallel with China, in that Iran also has an abiding sense of resentment at having had its interests trampled over by the dominant powers in the world—the powers of the western world—for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. We do not necessarily have to agree with the Iranians’ view of the world to want to understand what it is like to be in their shoes. If one talks to Iranian Ministers and officials in Tehran, one hears that they feel surrounded. They say, “We have a nuclear Russia to the north of us, which occupied the northern part of our country not so many decades ago; we have a United States fleet to our south in the Gulf; we have an American army in Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east; we have a nuclear-armed Sunni power in Pakistan; and we have Israel, which is assumed to possess nuclear weapons, which talks about Iran representing an existential threat.” One of the starting points in considering policy must be to appreciate how the other side sees the world.

There are huge differences. I want briefly to digress, because the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) was right to flag up the continuing importance of human rights in any dialogue between London and Tehran. It is ironic that when one visits Tehran the Iranians talk with great pride about how there are designated seats in the Majlis for representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities. That must be contrasted with the appalling apostasy laws and the ruthless treatment of members of the Baha’i faith, whose leaders are even now imprisoned without trial, possibly awaiting charges for which, if found guilty, they could face a capital penalty. As the hon. Member for Stroud pointed out, not only is the death penalty used, but it is used in the most barbaric fashion, and there is imprisonment without trial or due process. I encourage the Minister to continue to exhort the Iranians to improve their record on human rights.

Does my hon. Friend agree, on the subject of rights, that the Iranian constitution gives many rights, and protects human rights for all, but that the problem is that the present regime especially has tried to step outside the constitution and veto those rights, continually using terrorism and national security as an excuse? Does he agree that one thing that the west should do is urge Iran to stick to its constitution and stop it making exemptions in its laws under the guise of national security?

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively.

Iran has the capacity to play an important and constructive role in the politics of the middle east and south-western Asia. Initially, it was hostile to the Taliban and it co-operated with the coalition forces in 2001 when they first entered Afghanistan. There is no doubt, from talking to Iranian leaders, that they are acutely aware of the damaging impact of the drugs trade and large numbers of Afghan refugees on the stability of their society. There is scope for Iran to become a partner for stability in Afghanistan, but it would need a change of heart from Tehran, which would need to be willing to turn language about wanting co-operation into concrete policy.

It is fair, too, for the west to acknowledge that Iran has legitimate national interests at stake in Iraq and the wider Gulf region. However, if Iran wants the west to take its interests seriously, it needs to understand how destabilising are comments such as those made recently by one of the President’s advisers, asserting that Bahrain should be part of Iranian territory. I should like the Minister to say whether the Government have pressed the Iranians to make a clear assertion—because I think it is now needed—that they respect Bahrain’s sovereignty and independence. The current President of Iran has used inflammatory language about Israel. I have said to Iranians that they grossly underestimate the fear that such language has provoked in Israel. There is no doubt that there is genuine fear in Israel that Iran poses a threat to the state’s very existence, yet speeches are made by Iranian leaders—most recently by Dr. Larijani at the Munich security conference in February—in which they talk about Israel as they talk about other states; they do not talk about the Zionist entity, but about Israel, a country that exists: it is a country that they do not like, and with whose policies they are at odds, but they see it as part of the region, and part of the world. If the Iranians would make it clear that they are willing to accept the existence of Israel, and the reality of the Israeli state, it would help things to move forward.

I must finish with a few words about the nuclear programme. There are some unpalatable facts. The programme is popular in Iran. There is a question as to how far we can trust any opinion survey, but there are surveys that show that up to 80 per cent. or more of the Iranian population support the case that Iran should have a nuclear capability. There is no doubt that the non-proliferation treaty gives Iran the right to civil nuclear power, but that right is subject to the rules and inspection regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The verdict set out in the IAEA’s most recent report of 19 February is clear: the Iranians are still refusing either to accept the additional protocol, which provides for unannounced inspections of key installations, or to provide full access to and co-operation with inspectors along the lines that the agency has been seeking.

The question is now what should be done. Does the Minister believe that we can still persuade Iran to stop, or at least suspend, its policy of enrichment? It is quite possible for Iran to have a working civil nuclear energy programme without the need to enrich material on Iranian soil. Is it possible to insert into the system an effective and verifiable barrier between the acquisition of a nuclear capability and the development of a nuclear weapon, so that any temptation to move to nuclear break-out could be deterred, and any step towards it, however slight, could be detected, and appropriate action could be taken?

In my party, we welcome President Obama’s outreach to Iran, but we believe that that message needs to be complemented by a greater determination on the part of the European Union to provide effective sanctions, to make it clear to Tehran that the alternative to engagement in response to the American initiative is major damage to the interests of Iran and its people. In particular, we want European sanctions against new oil and gas investment and a ban on new export credits. We have a chance available to us, but time is short, and I hope that the Minister will explain how the British Government plan to take policy forward in the next few months.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) on securing today’s debate, which has been constructive and well informed—across the Chamber. As hon. Members are aware, 2009 is shaping up to be a very significant year for Iran’s relationship with the international community. The United States, rightly in my view, is offering to extend its hand, and Iran, bluntly, will have to decide how to respond. President Obama said on 27 January that

“it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.”

So far, the fist has remained clenched, but there is still time for Iran to change its approach. Iran could, and should, choose to transform its relationship with the international community. Such a decision would benefit Iran and its people and the whole international community. However, to take advantage of the opportunities that would flow from such a change, Iran must face up to its responsibilities, many of which it currently chooses to ignore.

We touched on the nuclear issue. Iran ignores its obligations to the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency. It chooses to defy the will of both by continuing to enrich uranium, and refusing the IAEA the access that it seeks. Iran disregards its responsibilities; it supports terrorism and chooses to undermine stability and security in its own neighbourhood. Inside its borders, Iran pays no heed to the commitment that it has freely undertaken to its people to uphold international standards of human rights.

The point is that Iran has choices to make and the opportunity to change course. On the nuclear file, Iran can suspend enrichment, take up the E3 plus 3 offer and enjoy the many benefits that will come from co-operating with the international community, rather than standing toe to toe with us and seeking further confrontation and isolation. Iran could pursue its legitimate interests in the region through legitimate means, and play a constructive rather than destructive role. On human rights, Iran could take steps to recover the prestige it claims for itself by guaranteeing the rights of its people.

Our position is clear; we would like to have the opportunity of engaging in a positive and constructive relationship with Iran. We share interests across a wide range of issues, including promoting stability, security and economic development in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Iran took the opportunity and changed course, we could work together constructively. However, Iran’s behaviour undermines our confidence, and makes a mockery of the claims that it makes for itself. Until Iran changes course, we will be uncompromising in calling on it to meet its obligations.

I now address some of the points made this morning. I start by answering the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre, who initiated the debate. Let me be clear; we are not advocating or talking about regime change in Iran. We have made that clear both publicly and privately. This country has no hostility to Iran. As a number of Members said, it is a country with a long and distinguished history and a great culture.

We are open to contact with Iran. The Foreign Secretary has told Foreign Minister Mottaki that the United Kingdom sincerely wishes for a more positive relationship; but that requires Iran to change its behaviour, in particular to take up our offer on the nuclear file. If it does not do so, we will be forced to continue on the current path.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the suspension of enrichment by Iran in 2004. We need to look forward, rather than back to missed opportunities. Both sides have to be committed to the process. The international community is certainly willing to engage, but Iran has to meet its international obligations. The scope of the 2004 suspension was ambiguous, and Iran continued to enrich at a low level. That is one reason for the lack of trust and confidence.

I took some exception to the hon. Gentleman’s comments on the failure to tackle the drugs problem in Afghanistan. Progress is being made, but it is a colossal challenge. One problem in trying to thwart the drugs trade there is that although Iran supports Afghanistan through capacity building, it also gives the Taliban financial support, weapons and training. Support for the Taliban works fundamentally against the stability that we need in Afghanistan in order to undermine the drugs trade. The House should be unanimous in calling for Iran to stop such activities.

The hon. Gentleman underplayed the threat of Iran developing a nuclear capability. For almost two decades, Iran has concealed its nuclear programme. Five successive UN Security Council resolutions have urged Iran to engage, but it flatly refuses to do so. The latest IAEA report from Dr. El Baradei, published on 19 February, clearly demonstrates that there is a continuing unwillingness to engage, or to provide the information about the alleged studies with a military dimension that has been called for by the international community.

Some people pooh-pooh or dismiss concerns about Iran’s nuclear capability, but if it gains a nuclear capability it will inevitably invite a response from other countries in the region. That will lead to an arms race in the middle east, which is one of the surest ways of stepping towards Armageddon.

I do not underestimate the dangers of Iran having a nuclear weapons system. However, it would be right to observe that the international community could not prevent North Korea, Pakistan or India from developing one. Moreover, although Pakistan and India did so, the west continued to engage with them. Iranians would ask what they had to lose. We must be clear about what they could lose.

I agree. The thrust of our policy is about getting Iran to confront the choice that it faces and the direction in which it should go.

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said in support of the state of Israel. However, to deny the responsibility of the supreme leader for what President Ahmadinejad said when he spoke of Israel being wiped off the map of the world and being wiped from the pages of time—I believe that such sentiments are abhorrent, and I hope that all hon. Members share that view.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the importance of there being no preconditions for talks. For a country that has a track record of being enormously well-versed in playing for time and stringing out the process so that the fundamental problem is not tackled, talks without preconditions are a real concern. I support the view of President Obama that we cannot just engage in talks for talks’ sake.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) made a helpful and well-informed contribution. He rightly focused on the influence that Iran wields in the region. Iran arms, trains and funds Hezbollah, Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionist groups. That is wrong, it is destabilising, and it is dangerous. It is of enormous concern not only to us, the United States and the rest of the international community but to every Arab leader to whom I have spoken. It is a fundamental reality that we cannot deliver peace in the middle east without Iran changing its behaviour. We need to work with other Arab states on the matter.

I respect the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), but on the question of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran delisting, he engaged in a rewriting of history. I know, because I was at the centre of things, that the Government went out of their way to ensure that the decisions of our courts and of the European Union Court of First Instance on delisting were respected; it was others in the EU that we needed to win over—something that we did subsequently.

The hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions about Camp Ashraf. He will know that the US handed responsibility for it to Iraq on 1 January. The high commission for refugees and the International Committee for the Red Cross are involved, and the US received assurances from the Iraqi Government about the continued well-being of residents. We will obviously monitor the situation.

The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about a visa case. That is a matter for the Border and Immigration Agency, but if he writes to me or to the Minister for Borders and Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), we can provide a response.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made an important contribution on human rights in Iran. We must remember that Iran is one of a handful of countries that still execute juveniles; more than 140 are on death row. Iran has a draft law before the Majlis that would bring in a mandatory death sentence for the crime of apostasy. With such alleged crimes being treated in that way, Iran has no right to be respected for its human rights record.

This has been an important debate. We want to work with Iran and we want a peaceful relationship with the country, but the problems that exist must be resolved, particularly the nuclear issue. Without a resolution, the region, the entire middle east and the wider world will have major problems. That is why we believe that Iran faces a choice. I and the Government urge Iran to engage with the international community and to take the benefits that are available through the substantive offers that are on the table. It should seek those benefits, but to do so Iran has to respond to the genuine concerns that exist.