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Middle East

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

Advances by terrorists are threatening the sovereignty of Iraq. Assad’s refusal to negotiate a political transition has led to the largest humanitarian tragedy this century and is exacerbating the terrorist threat. We are working closely with the United States and European and regional nations to try to bring stability, tackle terrorism and relieve humanitarian suffering.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the only two genuine democratic nations in the middle east—both Israel and Kurdistan in northern Iraq—face increased threat from terrorism: Israel through the recent kidnappings by Hamas, and Kurdistan through the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on its border? What measures are the Government taking to assist these two democratic nations, and does my right hon. Friend not agree that softening our approach to Iran will exacerbate the problems of these nations, rather than help them?

Of course we work with other nations across the globe to counter terrorism, and the United Kingdom is absolutely relentless in its efforts to defeat terrorism all over the world. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no softening of any of our policies in relation to Iran. We look to Iran to cease support for sectarian groups elsewhere in the middle east and to reach a successful conclusion to nuclear negotiations, but I believe that it is important to discuss such issues with Iran, and we need the ability to do so.

Having just returned from five days in Iran, I very much welcome the written ministerial statement on UK-Iran relationships. However, the events in Iraq have, for the first time ever, created a situation in which Saudi interests and Iranian interests have something in common, which is to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Is the Foreign Secretary doing anything to facilitate such a dialogue, and to bring those joint interests closer together?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. One thing that would be of enormous assistance in defusing many tensions in the middle east is an improvement in relations between Iran and many of its neighbours, including the Gulf states in general. I hope that that will become part of Iranian foreign policy, and will be responded to by others. We certainly encourage any movement in that direction.

21. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the new Egyptian Government? Does he agree that they will offer stability rather than instability, unlike the former Government, in their relationship with Israel, and particularly on the border with Israel? (904263)

We certainly hope that Egypt will enjoy a period of stability, but I must point out that stability is most likely to come from economic growth and from a steady opening up of political space, with human rights properly respected, so that Egypt can enjoy a democratic future as well as a stable one.

I recently visited Egypt and heard about its plans for parliamentary elections. In the Foreign Secretary’s contacts with Egypt, the President and other advisers, will he emphasise the importance of a strong Parliament that can hold the Executive to account to ensure that precisely the issues he has just mentioned move forward and that the people feel there is adequate representation in Parliament?

Basically, yes. It is of course for Egyptians to determine their own constitution, but the thrust of our advice to Egyptian leaders is very much in line with what the hon. Lady says. Long-term stability will come from accountability—from Governments being responsive to the people. That is true of any country in the world, particularly one that has been through a sequence of revolutions. So I do agree with what she says.

17. It was good to hear the Foreign Secretary condemn the abduction of three Israelis. Unfortunately though, Hamas, which is now part of the unity Government, declared the abduction to be a success. Will he further condemn the Hamas Prime Minister who, in April 2014, said:“Abducting Israeli soldiers is a top priority on the agenda of Hamas and Palestinian resistance.”We will not get peace with a unity Government who include people with such views. (904259)

Let me say again that the new Government of the Palestinian Authority contain no Hamas members and have signed up to the Quartet principles, but I absolutely condemn any encouragement to foment further tensions, including the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. That is exactly the sort of thing that obstructs a successful peace process and is presumably designed to do so. It is important that Hamas or anyone else desists from it.

Let me press the Foreign Secretary a little further on the subject of Iran. I welcome his announcement that the British embassy in Tehran will be reopened. Iran surely has a choice to make between being a stabilising and a destabilising force in an already volatile region, and Britain has a responsibility to try to ensure that Iran makes the right choice. Effective diplomatic links can surely assist in that endeavour. Will the Foreign Secretary set out his thinking on how engagement with Iran on tackling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq could be used to help encourage a change of approach from Iran in relation to the conflict in Syria more broadly, which we all agree is intimately linked to the violence engulfing Iraq today?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I referred to this yesterday during my statement and in response to questions earlier: we would welcome, and we will press for, a wider change in the foreign policy of Iran. Nuclear negotiations are taking place now, and it is important that those issues are resolved between Iran and the rest of the international community. Iran has the capability to play a more positive role across the region. It has played, for many years, a divisive and sectarian role through supporting divisive and often terrorist groups in other parts of the region. We look to it to desist from that, and we will use the expansion of our bilateral relations to press for that as well as to encourage links between the peoples of our countries and to have a good understanding of each other’s positions.

Let me ask the Foreign Secretary specifically about the nuclear negotiations that are under way. As he well knows, the deadline of 20 July for agreeing a comprehensive nuclear deal is now fast approaching. Does he accept that it is vital, notwithstanding the renewed diplomatic engagement with Iran, that the United Kingdom continues to exert pressure on Iran in the coming weeks to make the necessary concessions to reach a final deal on that agreed international timetable?

Absolutely. Those negotiations are entering a particularly intensive phase as we come towards 20 July, which is six months after the commencement of the interim deal on the nuclear issue. We made provision in the interim deal for that deadline to be rolled over for another six months, but no plan has been made to do so at the moment. It is important that the negotiations make major progress before 20 July, and that will require a more realistic approach by Iran in the negotiations than anything we have seen in recent months.