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Volume 571: debated on Tuesday 3 December 2013

We are upgrading our bilateral relations on a step-by-step basis, including through the appointment of non-resident chargés d’affaires, direct contact between the Prime Minister and President Rouhani, and meetings between officials. Our dialogue with Iran has covered bilateral relations, the nuclear issue and Syria.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. While I welcome all efforts to improve relations with Iran to encourage peace and stability in the whole region, will he assure me that we will continue to take a tough stance on the treatment of opposition groups and minorities by the Iranian authorities?

Absolutely. I can readily give that guarantee. We have clearly made progress on the nuclear issue, with the interim agreement we have concluded, and are stepping up bilateral relations, but that in no way inhibits us from expressing our views on human rights. Iran continues to have one of the worst human rights records in the world for the treatment of journalists and minors, and for the continued house arrest of key opposition leaders. We will always feel free to raise those issues with Iranian leaders.

May I take the Foreign Secretary back to his favourite subject, a nuclear weapons-free middle east? That has now become a greater possibility with an interim agreement with Iran. Will he update us on progress on a conference that would include Israel, which of course is the only country in the region that has declared nuclear weapons?

I do not have an update beyond the one I gave the hon. Gentleman a couple of weeks ago, but I will keep in touch with him as he is extremely assiduous on this matter. I agree with his assessment that the interim deal achieved with Iran on the nuclear issue reinforces the case for, and brings closer, a conference for which he has long campaigned and which the United Kingdom would like to see.

Iran, through its proxy Hezbollah, continues to support the brutal Assad regime. What leverage can the Foreign Secretary bring to bear on Iran’s role in Syria? Would President Rouhani’s recent move towards peace not have more credibility if he took a much more constructive role in attempting to resolve the conflict in Syria?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Iran continues to play a role in Syria that in our view perpetuates the conflict and contributes to the appalling human rights abuses and oppression by the Assad regime. There have so far not been wider changes in Iran’s foreign policy, alongside the nuclear deal that we have concluded. We will of course press for those changes. Our non-resident chargé d’affaires is today making his first visit to Iran and discussion on Syria will be included on the agenda.

Following on from the Foreign Secretary’s answer, what is his assessment of the prospect of Iran accepting the terms of the 30 June Geneva final communiqué and participating in the Geneva II talks on 22 January?

That is an important question, and one that I put to the Iranian Foreign Minister. We think it should be possible for all nations to work on Syria together, on the basis of the Geneva I communiqué. I have said to the Iranians that if they were able to do that, then many countries, including the UK, would be more favourable to their inclusion in future international discussions. While they have not ruled that out, they have yet not committed to it. We will continue to press them to do so.