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Volume 564: debated on Monday 17 June 2013

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty’s Government towards Iran following the election of Dr Hassan Rouhani as its new President.

I congratulate the people of Iran on their participation in Friday’s elections and Dr Rouhani on the result. He made some positive remarks during his election campaign about the need to improve economic and political conditions for the Iranian people and to resolve the nuclear issue. The Iranian people will, no doubt, look to their new President to make good on those promises.

The United Kingdom’s policy on Iran has been consistent under this Government and the last. We share international concern, documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran’s nuclear programme is not for purely peaceful purposes, and we deplore Iran’s failure to co-operate fully with the IAEA, to uphold its responsibilities under the non-proliferation treaty and to meet the demands placed on it by UN Security Council resolutions. The Government hope that, following Dr Rouhani’s election, the Iranian Government will take up the opportunity of a new relationship with the international community by making every effort to reach a negotiated settlement on the nuclear issue. If Iran is prepared to make that choice, we are ready to respond in good faith; our commitment to seeking a peaceful diplomatic settlement of this dispute is sincere. So I urge Iran to engage seriously with the E3 plus 3 and urgently to take concrete steps to address international concerns. Iran should not doubt our resolve to prevent nuclear proliferation in the middle east and to increase the pressure, through international sanctions, should its leaders choose not to take this path.

May I thank the Foreign Secretary for that statement and associate myself with the congratulations, in which we would all share, to the Iranian people and to Dr Rouhani on his election? May I tell the Foreign Secretary that in my many dealings with Dr Rouhani when he was head of the Iranian national security council under President Khatami, I found him courteous, engaged and straightforward to deal with?

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that although Dr Rouhani will seek strongly to represent his country’s interests and its faith, his Government could, if given the space, be a positive force in respect of its neighbours in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq? Does he also accept that Dr Rouhani has made it clear that he wants a fresh start on the nuclear file, but that negotiations that aim at stopping Iran’s entire civil nuclear programme, as Israel seems to want, are bound to fail, whereas negotiations aimed at ensuring that there are clear safeguards against a break-out to a military programme, with a phase-down of sanctions, do have a good chance of success? Does he agree that, as soon as possible, the E3 plus 3 should broker some confidence-building measures with the new Government?

Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that in aiming to improve relations with Iran, we should show an understanding of the hostile and humiliating way in which that ancient nation feels it has been treated in decades past by the west, especially by the United Kingdom? Will he also acknowledge that we should not expect too much, too soon from the new President, who will not be taking office for two months and will face his own challenges from within a complex, complicated governmental system?

Lastly, although I fully understand why the Foreign Secretary had to close our embassy in Tehran, may I ask what active steps he will now be taking to reopen it and to re-establish full diplomatic relations?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and questions, and indeed I pay tribute to the work he did, particularly between 2003 and 2005, seeking to improve relations with Iran and to address the nuclear issue, including working with Dr Rouhani.

On all the matters that the right hon. Gentleman has raised it will be important for us to have an open mind but to judge Iran on its actions. There have been positive words during the election campaign, but it will, of course, be the actions we judge, including on the potential to adopt a more constructive position when it comes to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, which he mentioned. The opportunity is there through the E3 plus 3 negotiations to make constructive progress on the nuclear issue on the basis that he describes. The E3 plus 3 have made it clear since February that we are open about the long-term benefits to Iran of reaching a comprehensive agreement. We have been open to Iran that if it could react in a constructive way to the offer we have put on the table, that would open the door to the normalisation of political and economic relations with the international community. We have proposed a balanced and credible offer, to which Iran has not yet made a sufficiently constructive response. The opportunity is there.

We should always try to understand how other countries feel about events in history—that is part of good and effective diplomacy all over the world—just as they should appreciate our concerns. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the President-elect does not immediately take office, but the IAEA has stressed the urgency of the nuclear issue and it is important that that is borne in mind.

Finally, we had no wish to close our embassy, as the right hon. Gentleman understands. Our embassy compounds were invaded in a way that could only have been state-sponsored in some way, at great danger to our staff and with the destruction of their personal possessions. It is not possible to operate an embassy in that environment, so although we maintain diplomatic relations with Iran and have no policy against opening an embassy, we would need to be sure about the safety of our staff and that the embassy could fulfil the normal functions of an embassy.

Everyone will hope that this election result will lead to better days for the Iranian people, but would my right hon. Friend agree that it is important not to go along with the lazy labelling of Dr Rouhani but to listen very carefully to what comes out of Iran and, as my right hon. Friend has said, to judge him entirely by what happens?

Yes, absolutely. I think that that is a good phrase to remember: no lazy labelling. This is a very complex political system in which, we must remember, 678 candidates for the presidential election were disqualified, including all 30 of the women who attempted to stand; the political system is rather different from ours and is one in which human rights abuses are very serious. We should not have lazy labelling but should be open to improvements in relations and ready to reciprocate if the opportunity is there.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) for securing this urgent question at a very important time, and for the time that he has spent discussing the important subject of Iran with me.

Hassan Rouhani has secured more than 50% of the popular vote in Iran. This is a time of great opportunity, but also uncertainty. Hopes are high among the Iranian people and we know that Hassan Rouhani has expressed a desire to end the international sanctions relating to Iran’s development of a nuclear programme.

This is an important time, but the power structures in Iran mean that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still in charge of many matters, including foreign policy. Iran is a significant actor throughout the middle east and has the capacity to change the situation on the ground for good or for ill, including for foreign policy matters. In the light of that, I want to ask the Foreign Secretary a number of specific questions.

First, has the Foreign Secretary had the opportunity yet to discuss matters with the EU commissioner for external relations, particularly the election results and their possible impact on talks? Will he meet those who have expressed continuing concern about Iran’s intentions on nuclear policy, even after the presidential election? It is very important that we continue to listen to those concerns and are cautious in our approach.

Given the present state of UK-Iran relations, what specific contacts has the Foreign Secretary had with the Iranian Government? He mentioned that we continue to have diplomatic relations. What discussions have taken place with the Iranian Government? In the months and years ahead, the Iranian people will judge the new President by his actions, not his words. It is vital, however, that at this important time we are open and receptive. I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could please indicate whether that has extended thus far to contact.

I think the same message is coming from all parts of the House on this subject—that is, that it is good to have that unity in our message. The hon. Gentleman is right. Not only is the political spectrum in Iran complex to interpret from outside, but so is the power structure. We should not assume that the President has the absolute power by any means on the subjects about which we are most concerned. Most observers would consider that the presidency overall is perhaps a weaker institution than it was eight years ago when President Ahmadinejad first took office. The hon. Gentleman is right that Iran has an immense capacity to act for good or ill in the region, and on a very important global issue, the nuclear file.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions about the E3 plus 3 negotiations and the role of the EU High Representative, our offer has been clear since February and that offer remains. That will continue to be the approach of the High Representative and of the E3 plus 3. We have regular meetings about all these issues. I regularly meet the director general of the IAEA to discuss in detail all the concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme.

We have some contacts and conversations with Iran. As I mentioned before, we have not broken off diplomatic relations. Our embassy became impossible to operate and as a result I required the closure of the Iranian embassy in London, but we have had conversations since that time. I have had conversations myself with the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr Salehi, and we have conversations in the margins of the United Nations and other international forums. We have not, of course, had any contact yet with the President-elect, Mr Rouhani, who is some way from taking office. Decisions about that are for the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the best thing has happened that we could have hoped for—the Iranian people have once again reaffirmed their support for engagement with the western world and cynicism about the grabbing of nuclear capability—the worst thing the west could do is raise excessive expectations about how much could be achieved under the new leader in too short a time? Yet the urgency is on to contain the nuclear threat, with Iran possibly acquiring weapons-grade plutonium by the end of this year, and Iran is one of the powers fomenting the civil war in Syria. May I suggest urgent engagement on these matters, but as firmly and as diplomatically as possible?

Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We should hesitate before trying to interpret the results of elections in other countries. Sometimes we have enough trouble interpreting election results in our own country, so we should not rush too excitedly into that, but we should take full note of what has happened and what Mr Rouhani said during the election campaign and be ready to respond in good faith in the way that I outlined in my initial statement, and we will stick to that over the coming weeks. My hon. Friend is right about the urgency of the issue. Iran is acting in defiance of six UN Security Council resolutions and of successive resolutions of the IAEA board, and addressing the nuclear issue has become very urgent indeed.

I welcome the general tone of the Foreign Secretary’s comments, but is it not time to stop treating Iran as a pariah state and to treat it instead as a proud nation which plays a key role, if a nefarious one, in so many middle east conflicts? Should he not press for direct engagement with Iran on Syria and on Israel-Palestine? Now that its people have voted directly to engage with the west on the basis of respect, even if their Government have policies with which we bitterly disagree, it is surely essential to press that engagement. Unless we do, I see no prospect of the middle east, which is in one of its most unstable and dangerous situations ever, stabilising. Iran holds the key to that.

It has to be recognised that Iran has brought its isolation and economic sanctions upon itself, through its own actions. However, the British people have no quarrel with the people of Iran. Our dispute is over Iran’s nuclear programme. It will be difficult to create the atmosphere to address constructively with Iran all the other issues in the middle east that the right hon. Gentleman has quite legitimately mentioned without settling the nuclear issue. That is the central point. That is not just the view of the UK; we must remember that the E3 plus 3 include China and Russia, and our negotiating position is agreed with them. We are all agreed that the Iranian response has not been adequate or realistic so far. A change in that situation would unlock the opportunity for us to work together on other issues, and for Iran to be treated with the respect that the world would owe it as a major nation in its region. That is all there for the taking if we can resolve the nuclear issue.

It is generally accepted that both sides have made mistakes in regard to this relationship, and that no one’s hands are clean. Given that the election of President Rouhani offers a chink of light, what confidence-building measures is the Foreign Secretary considering? For example, will the Foreign Office seek the necessary assurances in relation to our embassy, in the hope that one day we will be able to reopen it? If not, what other measures is he considering?

We do have conversations with the Iranians, and we will of course be very much open to conversations with the new President and his team. As has been mentioned, they are still some way from taking office, and we do not know who the other Ministers in the new Government will be, but, yes, we will be open to conversations with them. Those conversations can and should include the circumstances in which embassies can be reopened, but after what happened last time, we would need to be very confident of any assurances before we were able to reopen our embassy in the short term. There is an offer on the table from the E3 plus 3 on the nuclear issue, and it will remain on the table over the coming weeks.

Should we not bear in mind that the previous regime, the Shah’s regime, was put in place and maintained for a long time by Britain, the United States and other western powers? That has not been forgotten by the Iranian people, but if conditions can be normalised, as we all hope will be the case, will that not put pressure on the present regime to end the abuses of human rights in Iran?

Yes, of course people have strong views about history, but as I have pointed out, the negotiations on the nuclear issue are not just with the UK. They involve all the other members of the E3 plus 3, including China and Russia. So historical feelings about the UK cannot be a barrier to resolving those issues. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to human rights in Iran; its human rights record is truly appalling. There are more journalists in prison in Iran than in any other country in the world, 350 executions were carried out last year, opposition leaders have been detained for over two years, and there are continued arrests of human rights defenders and minorities. It is high time that that record was improved, and that the nuclear issue was resolved.

Let us hope that the new President of Iran is not a holocaust denier who wants to wipe a member state of the United Nations from the face of the map. Does the Foreign Secretary see any role for Iran in trying to bring about a ceasefire in Syria—I stress the word “ceasefire”—to stop the killing, whether or not it leads to a political transition?

A constructive role for Iran in Syria would be very welcome, and there is the opportunity for that. Iran’s policy on Syria at the moment is the exact opposite, as there is an abundance of evidence of Iranian participation in the murder, torture and abuse committed by the Assad regime, so as things stand today Iran is a long way from playing a helpful diplomatic or restraining role, highly desirable though that would be.

May I press the Foreign Secretary on the issue of the embassy? Since it closed in November 2011, it has been very difficult for people to get visas to come here—it is a long and tortuous process. Given what has happened, he might not want to open an all-singing, all-dancing embassy, but at the very least giving people the opportunity to make applications to visit relatives in this country would be greatly appreciated.

It is a great shame that the closure of embassies makes it more difficult for people to travel. That was not something we desired, and the reopening of embassies is not something to which we are on any principle opposed, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, given what happened, which was against every provision of the Vienna convention and every principle of civilised behaviour regarding the treatment of diplomats anywhere in the world, we would have to be very confident of a change in the approach to our embassy before being able to reopen it.

Dr Rouhani himself has described his victory as a victory for moderation over extremism. Would it not be an early reward and encouragement to such moderation, in action as well as words, to include Iran in the planned talks on the future of Syria?

Dr Rouhani has said good words about moderation. During his campaign he said:

“What I truly wish is for moderation to return to the country. This is my only wish. Extremism pains me greatly. We have suffered many blows as a result of extremism.”

Those are the sorts of positive remarks to which I referred during the election campaign. On the question of Iran’s participation in future talks on Syria, which of course we are trying to arrange and which the Prime Minister is discussing further today at the G8 summit, we will proceed on the basis that a second Geneva conference must proceed from what we agreed in Geneva last year: the creation of a transitional Government in Syria, formed from the regime and the opposition, with full executive authority, and by mutual consent. We have seen no evidence to date that the Iranians accept that basic premise of the Geneva conference and of holding another Geneva conference, which of course greatly complicates the question of their attendance.

The Foreign Secretary will recognise that, despite Iran’s appalling human rights record and very strange electoral system, there has nevertheless been huge participation in the election, which demonstrates a thirst to get away from the human rights abuses of the past and have a better engagement with the rest of the world. Iran is still a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and holding a conference on a middle east nuclear weapons-free zone is still on the table—it was not held in Helsinki last year but is still due to be held. Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that he is redoubling his efforts to ensure that that conference is held, at which Iran would be present, and that it could be part of an ongoing engagement and debate to try to bring about that dream?

We support a middle east nuclear weapons conference, as we accepted at the review conference of the NPT in 2010. We have been trying to bring that about. There is a Finnish facilitator for the conference who has been doing good work, and we have been supporting him in that work, so the hon. Gentleman can be sure that the British Government are arguing in that direction.

That would be a good thing to know. As I remarked earlier, we must be careful about how we interpret election results in other countries. There is no doubt that sanctions on Iran are having a major impact on the country, and that that is felt in the country, so I want to make it clear again that if we cannot resolve the nuclear issue, sanctions will be intensified. Iran faces a choice on this. I cannot divine the exact feelings of the Iranian people, but I know that they would be much better off if they resolved the nuclear issue.

The Iranian people are overwhelmingly young and want to engage with the rest of the world. They are controlled by a conservative theocratic group. The President who has just been elected comes from that conservative group, but he has been chosen because the young people want change. How can we get across, to the young people of Iran in particular, that we are not the enemy and that we also want change in Iran?

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have no quarrel with the people of Iran and we are not their enemy. We do try to get that message across.

Of course, it is not easy to broadcast into Iran but we make every effort to do so. The BBC makes very good efforts to do so; I have done a number of interviews on BBC Persian that directly address the issues, so that the people of Iran can hear what we say and how we argue about those issues.

It is possible, in a world much more connected and with so many social media, to convey the messages in many new ways. We are taking every opportunity to do that, and for private individuals to do that is extremely healthy. We can get the messages across. Perhaps—without, as I say, over-analysing the result—we are seeing a wish among the young people of Iran to have better relations with the rest of the world.

Further to the last question, Iran is a key regional player yet is intransigent on Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and nuclear capability. Is my right hon. Friend not concerned that, although the new President is perhaps a moderate, he will be dictated to by the religious establishment in Iran?

As we were saying a few moments ago, the power structure in Iran is complex and enormous authority resides in the Supreme Leader—there is a big clue in the title—in particular over the nuclear issue. We cannot assume that a newly elected President, whatever his intentions—and we cannot yet be sure of those—would be able to execute all the policies that he would like to see.

We will take the issue step by step. We will respond in good faith to efforts to improve relations, but we will judge Iran on actions rather than words.

It is too early to bring out the bunting, although it is good that once the authorities had banned most of the candidates from standing, at least they did not rig the election this time, as they did last time.

May I impress on the Foreign Secretary two elements of the human rights record that he did not explicitly refer to, the first of which is the execution of children? Iran is a signatory to all the international treaties in relation to that, and it should stop. Secondly, there is the treatment of the Ahwazi Arabs, many of whom are still on hunger strike. They have been hideously oppressed and their peaceful activists have been thrown into prison without trial for far too long.

I absolutely agree. We do our utmost to hold Iran to account on human rights issues. We have designated under EU sanctions more than 80 Iranians as responsible for human rights violations. We have helped to establish a UN special rapporteur on human rights and we will continue to raise those issues.

I warmly welcome the approach that my right hon. Friend has taken and what he has just said about human rights abuses in Iran. To those can be added the question of the persecution of religious minorities, including Christians. Will he join me in expressing the hope that there will be a reduction in the amount of persecution? That was such a feature of the time in office of the outgoing President, about whose departure few tears can be shed.

Yes, absolutely. In addition to my other remarks about the human rights record, I deplore the persecution of Christians and the long string of anti-Semitic remarks made by the incumbent President. I think that people across the world will be hoping that these things will change.

Could we not prove our even-handedness and reduce tensions if we appealed to the only known nuclear state in the region to end its 20-year breach of international agreements and invite the inspectors in? Would it not be best for Israel to declare its own nuclear stockpile in order to persuade Iran to follow suit?

We urge Israel to join the non-proliferation treaty—that is the long-established position of the United Kingdom. However, those who ask Israel to address nuclear issues have to recognise that one way that would make it impossible for it to ever do that would be for Iran to develop a nuclear capability. That would be the end of any hope for a middle east free of nuclear weapons. The settling of this Iranian nuclear issue is very important to going on to any other issues.

We never would have had a British empire if our diplomats had been worried about health and safety at work. Given that the new President-elect has said that he would like to reopen our embassy and that we have not broken off diplomatic relations, is it not perhaps time for us to try to reopen our embassy in Tehran and demonstrate that trust is built in small steps? Being absent from the discussion will not help us at all.

First of all, we are not absent from the discussion; we are part of the E3 plus 3, so we have direct discussions with Iran on the nuclear issue. Nor have we broken diplomatic relations with Iran. I must say to my hon. Friend that the danger in which our staff were placed was sufficiently great and the destruction of their possessions and the invasion of the embassy sufficiently unacceptable that I find describing it as a health and safety issue inappropriate.

At the risk of lazy labelling, before the election we were told that six hardliners had been vetted to go on the ballot paper, but now we are told that a moderate slipped through the net and is President. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the new President, Dr Rouhani, and what are his hopes for improvements in UK-Iranian relations?

Yes, this can demonstrate the dangers of vetting a list of candidates, a practice that might be well known to many political parties in this House, although I am not pointing in any particular direction. I do not want to give too detailed an assessment, because the politics of Iran are very complex, as hon. Members from all parties have pointed out. I also do not want to make our job in improving relations with Iran more difficult by giving an initial assessment that may turn out to be wrong. Nor do I want to make the new President’s job more difficult; it will be immensely difficult for him to govern Iran and do what he says he wants to do, namely improve the condition of his people. We will let our analysis take shape over time and judge by actions, not words.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, notwithstanding the outcome of the election, this is not the time for us to become dewy-eyed about the Iranian regime, which has a long track record of internal brutality, as well as of being prepared to arm its proxies in countries such as Lebanon in order to threaten Israel, and is complicit in the brutality of the Assad regime in Syria?

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of all those things. We have discussed the opportunity for Iran to play a constructive role. Let us be absolutely clear that it does not do so at the moment in regional relations or in many of the conflicts around the middle east, most spectacularly of all in the case of Syria, where Iran is actively fuelling the oppression of the Syrian people. My hon. Friend’s words are wise and should be heeded.

Will the Foreign Secretary say a bit about Iran’s relationship with its eastern neighbour, Afghanistan? As our troops leave Afghanistan over the next 18 months or so, stability in that country will depend on its having good relations with all its neighbours. Both Iran and Afghanistan would gain from better bilateral relations. What can the UK do to make that happen?

That is a very important point. There are reasonably good relations between the Governments of Afghanistan and Iran. I hope that any new Government in Iran would want to build on that. Those relations are important given their common border and their common interest in counter-narcotics. It is important that they are able to work together. The United Kingdom does nothing to obstruct that, despite all our difficulties with Iran. We will continue to believe that they ought to have good, constructive relations.

Earlier today, Mr Rouhani vowed to ensure that there is greater transparency with respect to Iran’s nuclear programme. Given that Iran has been deemed a dangerous rogue nation for more than 30 years, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the new President must demonstrate positive deeds, not just words, if he is to be taken seriously?

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. There are many ways in which greater transparency can be demonstrated. The International Atomic Energy Agency has pointed to Iran’s failure to provide design information on the heavy water research reactor at Arak and its failure to provide substantive answers to the agency’s detailed questions on the activities undertaken at Parchin. Iran needs urgently to provide the agency with access to all the sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the agency. There is therefore a good deal of scope for increased transparency.

The flickering prospect delivered by this result comes from the Iranian people. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that they deserve to understand that our concern to safeguard their human rights is not merely secondary to our nuclear and regional concerns? Given the abuse of the opposition and religious minorities to which he has referred, will he provide an assurance that the current circumstances will not be used by this or any other Government as an excuse to return people who have escaped from Iran and sought refugee status to a place of risk?

The last point is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but clearly our policy can change only if the circumstances change. The fact that there has been a certain election result does not mean that we can judge immediately that everything has changed. The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the importance of the human rights issues. The fact that we designate individuals for human rights violations under our sanctions legislation shows how seriously we take such matters. I stress that the main issue of contention in international relations between ourselves and Iran, and between most other countries in the world and Iran, is the nuclear issue. If we could solve that, there would be many new ways in which we could work together. That does not mean that we would stop deploring human rights violations in Iran or in any other country, but solving that issue would be a major diplomatic breakthrough.

My right hon. Friend will have gathered that the mood of the House is one of hope and expectation at the election of President-elect Rouhani. I urge my right hon. Friend, through his good offices, to take the next couple of months until Mr Rouhani comes to power to assess all the offers to Iran that have been on the table. The Iranian people have voted for change and hope. It was notable in the election that no matter how hard-line a presidential candidate was, most of them were talking about the economic failure of the last eight years. The Iranian people obviously want to change that economic failure. That provides a glint of light and suggests a way in which we might be able to tempt the new President. I urge my right hon. Friend to spend the next two months considering whether there is a chink of light that we can exploit when Mr Rouhani comes to power.

Yes, and that takes us back to the nuclear issue. We have made a clear offer to Iran that in return for its suspending enrichment above 5% and addressing concerns about its stockpile of uranium and its enrichment capacity, we would commit ourselves to lifting some sanctions. The opportunity to improve the economic situation is there.

We all welcome the election of a so-called moderate President-elect, but is my right hon. Friend aware that less than an hour ago in Tehran President Rouhani said that under no circumstances will the enrichment of uranium stop? Will he comment on reports emanating from the United States that Iran is preparing to send 4,000 troops to intervene in Syria?

The President-elect gave a news conference today and said a number of things, including about improving relations with all countries Iran recognises— which includes the UK—and we are responding in the way we are today in this House. As well as commenting on the nuclear programme in the way my hon. Friend described, the President-elect also said that the primary objective of the next Government should be to build confidence and trust with the international community, and resolve the domestic, economic crisis. The only way to do that will be to address the nuclear issue successfully. I am not in a position to confirm any military movements by the United States.

The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the positions taken by former Presidents Hathmi and Rafsanjani. They were both regarded as moderates, yet under their terms nuclear capabilities were increased in Iran. Despite the prospect of a moderate President, one must compare that with previous moderate Presidents in Iran and look at the policies implemented, whether in nuclear enrichment, Syria, Bahrain, or Lebanon and then linked to Syria. Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern about the latest statement made by the President-elect when he said that his position on Syria will be the same as that of Russia?

Yes, all those things show that we are right to emphasise—I think this is common ground across the House—that actions and policies over time will either allow for an improvement in relations, or not. We will see what happens on all those things, but the opportunity is there. Let me say again that we will respond in good faith to changes in policies by Iran if they happen, but the cautionary note sounded by my hon. Friend is entirely valid.

The hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) rightly pointed out the importance of Iran’s relationship to the east with Afghanistan, but we must also bear in mind the importance of Iran’s relationship with the west and south, and with Iraq and the Persian gulf states. May I seek assurances from my right hon. Friend that the British Government will continue closely to monitor that situation, which is crucial to peace in the middle east?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that and the relationship of Iran with those states is of huge importance to confidence in peace and security in the region, and we will watch closely. Iran’s relations with those countries, and how it approaches them, will be very much among the actions that we will judge over time.