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Oman, UAE and Iran

Volume 633: debated on Monday 11 December 2017

With your permission, Mr Speaker, and following my undertaking to the House, I will make a statement about my visit to the middle east, from where I returned this morning.

This is a crucial time in the region. On the one hand we have a moment of hope, with scores of countries having come together to break the grip of Daesh on Iraq and Syria. Britain’s armed forces have played a proud role in a military campaign that has freed millions, and Iraq’s Government declared on Saturday that all their territory had been liberated. During her successful visit to Iraq last month, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister thanked the British servicemen and women who have helped to bring about the territorial defeat of Daesh. In Jordan, she reaffirmed Britain’s absolute commitment to the peace and stability of one of our closest allies in the region. However, the setbacks inflicted upon Daesh have coincided with a dangerous escalation of the war in Yemen, where one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world is now unfolding.

This morning I returned from my first bilateral visit as Foreign Secretary to Oman, the UAE and Iran. My aim was to take forward Britain’s response, diplomatic and economic, to the crisis in Yemen. The Government strongly believe that the only way to bring this tragic conflict to an end is through a political solution. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman, whom I met in Muscat last Friday, entirely shared this analysis. The sultan and I discussed in detail the tragedy in Yemen, with which Oman shares a 180-mile border. We also agreed on the importance of settling the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours, and I was pleased to see that the summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council went ahead in Kuwait last week.

From Muscat I travelled to Tehran, where I met Iran’s senior leadership including President Rouhani, Vice-President Salehi and the Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif. I was frank about the subjects where our countries have differences of interest and approach, but our talks were constructive none the less.

The latest chapter of Britain’s relations with Iran opened with the achievement of the nuclear deal, the joint comprehensive plan of action, in July 2015. In every meeting, I stressed that the UK attaches the utmost importance to preserving this agreement. For the JCPOA to survive, Iran must continue to restrict its nuclear programme in accordance with the deal, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified Iran’s compliance so far, and other parties must keep their side of the bargain by helping the Iranian people to enjoy the economic benefits of re-engagement with the world.

The House knows of Iran’s disruptive role in conflicts across the region, including in Syria and Yemen. Our discussions on these subjects were frank and constructive, although neither I nor my Iranian counterparts would claim that we reached agreement on all issues. If we are to resolve the conflict in Yemen, Houthi rebels must stop firing missiles at Saudi Arabia. The House will recall that King Khalid International airport in Riyadh—Saudi Arabia’s equivalent of Heathrow—was the target of a ballistic missile launched from Yemen on 4 November. I pressed my Iranian counterparts to use their influence to ensure that these indiscriminate and dangerous attacks come to an end.

On bilateral issues, my first priority was the plight of the dual nationals behind bars. I urged their release on humanitarian grounds, where there is cause to do so. These are complex cases involving individuals considered by Iran to be their own citizens, and I do not wish to raise false hopes, but my meetings in Tehran were worthwhile, and while I do not believe it would be in the interests of the individuals concerned or their loved ones to provide a running commentary, the House can be assured that the Government will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to secure their release.

I also raised with Mr Zarif the official harassment of journalists working for BBC Persian and their families inside Iran. I brought up Iran’s wider human rights record, including how the regime executes more of its own citizens per capita than almost any other country. But where it is possible to be positive in our relations with Iran—for instance, by encouraging scientific, educational and cultural exchanges—we should be ready to be so.

I then travelled to Abu Dhabi for talks yesterday with the leaders of the UAE, focusing on the war in Yemen, joined by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and colleagues from the United States. We agreed on the importance of restoring full humanitarian and commercial access to the port of Hodeidah, which handles over 80% of Yemen’s food imports. We also agreed on the need to revive the political process, bearing in mind that the killing of the former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, by the Houthis may cause the conflict to become even more fragmented, and we discussed how best to address the missile threat from Yemen, welcoming the United Nations investigation into the origin of the weapons launched.

Our concern for the unspeakable suffering in Yemen should not blind us to the reality that resolving a conflict of this scale and complexity will take time and persistence, and success is far from guaranteed. But it is only by engagement with all the regional powers, including Iran, and only by mobilising Britain’s unique array of friendships in the middle east, that we stand any chance of making headway. I am determined to press ahead with the task, mindful of the human tragedy in Yemen, and I shall be meeting my Gulf and American colleagues again early in the new year. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving me advance sight of his statement. I also thank him for the obvious efforts that he has put in over recent days on these issues, which are of such great concern to this House and beyond.

Let us start, as we must, with the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I have no wish to go over old ground concerning the Foreign Secretary’s remarks to the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is right that he has finally apologised for those remarks and admitted that he was wrong. It is also right that he has finally met Richard Ratcliffe, and that he has spent the weekend in the region attempting to atone for his mistake and get Nazanin released. We welcome the tentative progress that the Foreign Secretary has made in that regard. As Richard Ratcliffe himself put it,

“it doesn’t change the fundamentals but it makes the change in the fundamentals more likely.”

I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary cannot give a running commentary, but I should like to ask him two specific questions on this issue. First, did he seek meetings during his visit with representatives of the revolutionary courts, the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Justice? In other words, did he seek to meet those who, in Richard Ratcliffe’s words, have the power to “change the fundamentals” in Nazanin’s case? Indeed, did he seek a meeting with Nazanin herself while he was there? Secondly, in the Foreign Secretary’s meetings with President Rouhani and others, did he make it perfectly clear to them personally that his comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which were widely publicised in the Iranian state media, had been mistaken?

Turning to the Iran nuclear deal, we welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary raised this issue, and he spoke for all of us in reassuring Iran that whatever other bilateral differences we may face, Britain will continue to honour our part in the nuclear deal as long as Iran continues to do the same. But of course, that is not where the real problem lies. As with so much else, the real problem lies in the White House. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what the plan is now? What is the plan in relation to persuading President Trump to see sense and stop his senseless assault on the Iran deal? What is the plan to get President Trump back on board? Or is this yet another area in which the Government are forced to concede that they have no influence to wield?

Turning to Yemen, we welcome the fact that, as well as visiting Tehran, the Foreign Secretary visited Abu Dhabi and Oman and raised the issue of Yemen there as well. While we welcome the talks, we are bound yet again to ask the question: what is the plan now? What is the plan to get the blockades fully lifted and enable full access for humanitarian relief? What is the plan to secure a ceasefire agreement and make progress towards long-term political solutions? And where is the plan for a new United Nations Security Council resolution, 14 months since the UK first circulated its draft?

Last week, the UN Security Council cancelled its scheduled open meeting on Yemen, and instead held one in private. Britain’s representative, Jonathan Allen, said that a closed doors session was needed so that

“Council members could have a frank conversation”.

We appreciate that the best progress is often made behind closed doors, but the people of Yemen have been waiting for two years for any kind of progress and for any sort of hope of an end to the war and to their suffering. Instead, things just get worse and worse. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that people are tired of hearing that progress is being made behind the scenes, when things are getting ever worse on the ground? In the wake of his talks this weekend, in the wake of his meetings with the Quint, and in the wake of last week’s closed Security Council session, will he now spell out what the plan is for peace?

I am sure that many other regional security issues were discussed on the Foreign Secretary’s trip, from the tensions with Saudi Arabia to President Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, but may I ask specifically what conclusions he reached from his discussions on the prospects for a political solution to end the fighting in Syria? Is Iran ready to accept, as an outcome of the Astana process, that it will withdraw its forces from Syria, and will Hezbollah and the Shi’a militias do likewise, provided that President Assad is left in place, that all coalition forces are withdrawn, and that Syria is given international assistance with its reconstruction? If that is the case, will the UK Government accept that deal, despite the Foreign Secretary’s repeated assertion that President Assad has no place in the future government of Syria? If they will not accept that deal, will the Foreign Secretary tell us when it comes to the future of Syria, as on everything else that we have discussed today, what is his plan now?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for the spirit in which she poses her questions. I can tell her that in Tehran I met Vice-President Salehi, the head of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, the Speaker of the Majlis Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and had long discussions with President Rouhani. In each of those conversations, I repeated the case for release on humanitarian grounds, where that is appropriate, of the difficult consular cases that we have in Iran, and that message was certainly received and understood. However, as I said to the House, it is too early to be confident about the outcome.

The right hon. Lady asked about the plan in Yemen, and she will understand that the plan certainly was until last Saturday that Ali Abdullah Saleh would be divided from the Houthis, which seemed to be the best avenue for progress. Indeed, Ali Abdullah Saleh was divided from the Houthis, but he then paid the ultimate price for his decision to go over to the coalition. We are left with a difficult and tense situation, and what we need to do now, the plan on which everybody is agreed, is to get Hodeidah open, first to humanitarian relief, to which the Saudis have agreed, but also to commercial traffic, too.

I heard the right hon. Lady’s question about the use of the UN Security Council. Resolution 2216 is still operative, but as penholders in the UN we keep the option of a new Security Council resolution under continuous review. It is vital that all parties understand, as I think they genuinely do in Riyadh, in Abu Dhabi and across the region, that there is no military solution to the disaster in Yemen. There is no way that any side can win this war. What we need now is a new constitution and a new political process, and that is the plan that the UK is in the lead in promoting. As I said to the right hon. Lady, we had meetings of the Quad last week, again last night in Abu Dhabi, and we will have a further meeting in early January.

As for the UK’s role in Syria, the right hon. Lady asked about the Astana process and whether it would be acceptable. Our view is that if there is to be a lasting peace in Syria that commands the support of all the people of that country, it is vital that we get the talks back to Geneva. I believe that that is the Labour party’s position. Indeed, I believe it was also the Labour party’s position that there could be no long-term future for Syria with President Assad. If that position has changed, I would be interested to hear about that. However, our view is that it is obviously a matter for the people of Syria, and we will be promoting a plan whereby they, including the 11 million or 12 million who have fled the country, will be given the chance to vote in free, fair, UN-observed elections to give that country a stable future.

I must pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the amount of effort that he has put in in the region—not only in the UAE and Oman, which are of course great friends of ours, but in Iran, where the situation is of course very difficult. He listed many of the people he met and kindly told us what he asked of them, so will he perhaps enlighten us as to what they asked of him?

I can summarise it by saying that what they really want is the kind of diplomatic energy and leadership that, as I was trying to explain to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the UK is supplying particularly in Yemen, where an appalling, catastrophic conflict has been going on for three years. The conflict is a scar on the conscience of humanity and, as she rightly said, we are penholders at the UN. We have a duty to Yemen, and we are in the lead on trying to bring the sides together to advance a political solution. As I told the House earlier, one of my reasons for going to both Oman and Iran is that we cannot ignore the role of those countries in advancing the cause of peace in Yemen.

First, I add my thanks to the Foreign Secretary for going to Iran. I am glad he made clear our continued commitment to the nuclear deal, in divergence from President Trump.

Forgive me if I missed this in the Foreign Secretary’s response to the shadow Foreign Secretary, but did the Foreign Secretary make it crystal clear that his remarks to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs did not quite reflect why Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran? Did he make that clear to the Iranians when he met them?

On Yemen, the Foreign Secretary is right to highlight the devastating consequences of the war. Can he tell us a little more about the lifting of the blockade on the port of Hodeidah? A few more details on that would be helpful for the House. Did he make it clear to everyone he met that any tactic of “starvation or surrender” is abhorrent? Finally, did he commit to any increase in aid to Yemen at the end of the blockade?

The Iranians have always been clear, and indeed they were clear with me again, that none of my remarks in any context has had any bearing on any judicial proceedings in relation to any UK consular case.

As for the suggestion that starvation is being used as an instrument of warfare, that is indeed what I said in terms. What I said to our friends in the region is that, unless we sort this out, we run the risk that the judgment of history will deem that starvation has been used as an instrument for the prosecution of a war. That is not something that anybody wants to see, least of all the coalition forces, which have a legitimate task in hand. They are defending their own countries, and there is a UN resolution and a coalition supporting what they are doing.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about how much the UK Government are giving, I can tell him it is currently running at £155 million, and the sum is under continual review.

May I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his trip? I agree with him that it is absolutely essential that we maintain energetic engagement with all the regional powers, particularly Iran, and use our very considerable diplomatic expertise and influence to resolve what he rightly says are problems that cannot be solved by war and must be solved by diplomacy. Finally, will he pay a warm tribute to the British armed forces that, collectively, have played the most remarkable and yet unsung role in the defeat of Daesh?

I warmly thank my right hon. Friend for his tribute to our armed forces. I have heard it echoed many times in my travels overseas, nowhere more than in the middle east, where they understand that we are the second biggest contributor to the war against Daesh in terms of the aerial bombardment, which has now been successful. Although that is not the end of the conflict with Daesh—it is not the end of the struggle—we should pay tribute to what our armed forces have achieved so far.

It is a pleasure to welcome back to his place the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz).

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s visit and his discussions on Yemen. Death continues to hang over Yemen—death from the humanitarian crisis; death from the escalating bombings; and death from the fighting that has now broken out between supporters of former President Saleh and the Houthis. In the 14 days between now and Christmas, another 1,802 Yemeni children will die from preventable causes unless we take action. Is the Foreign Secretary now saying to me that Iran is welcome to sit at the conference table in order to progress peace talks? In my discussions in Riyadh recently with the Saudi Foreign Minister and the President of Yemen, they were very clear that they did not see a role for Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary also confirm that when the President of Yemen comes to Britain next week the Prime Minister will see him, contrary to the advice given by the British ambassador to Yemen, who said that the Prime Minister has no time to see the President?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman’s vast learning on the subject of Yemen, and he is entirely right to say that there is a critical situation in Sana’a, where the Houthis are, in effect, trying to wipe out the supporters of Saleh—the General People’s Congress—or bring them over entirely to their side. One thing we must achieve is preserving a plurality of political voices in Yemen if we possibly can, which is one reason why we want to move forward with the talks I have described. To prevent further starvation and suffering, it is essential to get supplies flowing through Hodeidah, but to do that we must help to reassure the Saudis and others that that port is not being used to smuggle weaponry and to support those who are attacking civilians. That is one of the jobs in which the Government are now engaged. As for the forthcoming visit by the President of Yemen, I will undertake, on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman, to discuss with the Prime Minister her timetable, and will revert to him as soon as is convenient.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that maintaining an ever-closer relationship with Saudi Arabia is very important in developing stability in the region?

I would agree with that, and I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As I have said many times to the House, we should note the progress that Saudi Arabia is making; the “Vision 2030” that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced and is pursuing is full of hope for that country. What a transformation it would be for the region if the custodian of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina could make the kind of progress that he envisages—it could be transformational. No one could remotely say that is going to be easy, or that the project has no enemies, because it sure as heck has enemies, but it deserves support, and it will get the support and encouragement of this Government. We hope that the Crown Prince will be able to visit this country next year.

There are two immediate things this country should do. First, it should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, as that has simply fuelled what is going on in Yemen. Secondly, it should pay to Iran the money we owe it in debt—perhaps the Foreign Secretary has agreed to do that. I hope we can thus see the release of the dual nationals—Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and others who are held in Iran and should be released. Will the Foreign Secretary share with us whether he attempted to see Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe? Did he ask to see those people? Was he refused? What exactly was the situation?

I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady, who has been a great campaigner on humanitarian issues throughout the middle east. I must say, though, that I disagree with her on this issue, as she knows. We in the UK have the strictest possible rules and laws on the administration of our arms exports to ensure that they are used only in compliance with international humanitarian law. Were the UK to abstract itself from that scene, there would be plenty of other countries that would be only too happy to fill the void and we would lose our ability to engage and influence in the way I have described.

On the right hon. Lady’s point about debts, we acknowledge the debts that we have and it is a matter of public Government policy to try to settle them. As she knows, there are legal and technical obstacles to be overcome. I should stress that those issues have nothing to do with the difficult consular cases we face. As for the contacts I had with the family members of any of those involved in our consular cases, it would probably be better if I respected their privacy.

In the light of my right hon. Friend’s recent visits abroad, will he confirm to the House that the welfare and wellbeing of Britons abroad remains of paramount importance to his Department?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because although he may not know it, every year the Foreign and Commonwealth Office deals with around 20,000 consular cases, of which the ones mentioned today are only some of the most difficult. I was very pleased to see the release of the Chennai six the other day. Their relatives were not necessarily happy with the help they thought they had received from the FCO, and I noticed plenty of criticism in the media about the handling of that case, but I have to tell the House that I know that there were 50 conversations between Ministers of this Government and the Indian Government, including at least two conversations that the Prime Minister herself had, to seek the release of the Chennai six. When we look overall at the efforts made by our consular service, I really think that people should be proud of what the FCO is doing.

The Foreign Secretary is right to say how shocking the war in Yemen is: the humanitarian catastrophe there is on a biblical scale. Will he tell the House what discussions he had with Sultan Qaboos bin Said about how to end the conflict in Yemen? What role does he see Oman playing in bringing about peace?

It was a privilege to talk at great length to His Majesty the Sultan Qaboos. Indeed, our conversations went on until, I think, 2.30 in the morning. There is no question but that Oman, with its long history, its wisdom and its understanding of the region, can play a very important role in bringing together the sides in Yemen. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the relationship between the United Kingdom and Oman is possibly one of the most extraordinary that this country has with any country in the world outside Europe.

I very much welcome the Foreign Secretary’s visit and, as vice-chairman of the all-party group on Oman, I particularly welcome his visit to Muscat. Following on from what he just said about his visit and his audience with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, will the Foreign Secretary reaffirm the importance of the UK’s deep, broad and long-standing relationship with the Sultanate of Oman, which is based on mutual trust and respect, and will he reaffirm our continued commitment to that special relationship?

Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure he knows that Oman is one of the few countries in the world where British men and women—officers—serve in uniform in another country. I must check whether women serve in Oman—I would not want to swear to that, now that I come to think of it—but we certainly have British serving personnel in British uniform in Oman. The Sultan himself has proposed that there should be a reciprocal arrangement, and we are only too happy to look into that.

The Foreign Secretary is correct that the only way forward and out of the tragedy for Yemen is a political solution, but a big stumbling block in the way of that is the supply of weaponry by Iran to not just the Houthis but other groups in Yemen. Will he explain what reaction he got in raising that issue when he was in Iran?

That is a good question. I am absolutely certain that I raised that issue with every single one of my interlocutors. I made it absolutely clear that our country was horrified that weapons supplied by Iran should be directed at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia. I must say that my suggestions were greeted not with acceptance but denial—it was not a point that was accepted—and I was obliged to return several times to the fray. I came away fortified in my belief that the Iranian presence in Yemen has increased, not diminished, as a result of the conflict there. That is all the more reason to bring that conflict to an end, which will mean engagement with Iran.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his real engagement with these issues, particularly Yemen. I encourage him to strain every sinew over the next days and weeks, irrespective of holiday periods, to ensure that the potential catastrophe is averted. He will do a huge amount for the cause of the suffering people of Yemen if he and his colleagues can pay attention daily to that tragedy.

I can tell my hon. Friend that this is now not just the top priority for the Foreign Office, but something on which we are working together with our friends in the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development; my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) is a doubled-hatted Minister, serving both DFID and the Foreign Office, where he has charge of the crisis in Yemen. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) will see increased British engagement on this issue throughout Whitehall.

Order. May I just underline, admittedly for only the first time today, but for the umpteenth time in recent weeks, that Members who arrived in the Chamber after the statement began should not stand and expect to be called? That is a discourtesy to the House of Commons, so it must not happen.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sister-in-law lives in my constituency, and local people have presented me with a petition for her release. May I press the Foreign Secretary directly? Did he request to see her personally, so that he could judge of her mental and physical wellbeing?

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the Iranian Government do not recognise the dual national system that we have, and therefore do not give consular access. As for other members of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family, it would be better if I said that I think their privacy should be respected.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his update. When he spoke about the case of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was he able to remind those he spoke to that a very small, fragile child is involved in this as well? My constituents write to me about that, asking me to remind the Foreign Secretary of it.

I am grateful to both my hon. Friend and her constituents. That is, I hope, one of the considerations that will be uppermost in the minds of those in Iran who are pondering the case.

When I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, a group of visiting Iranian MPs suggested the establishment of a formal academic link between the University of Qom in Iran and either the University of Edinburgh or my alma mater, St Andrews. I was advised very strongly not to dream of making that suggestion to the Foreign Office, but today things are different. Would the Foreign Secretary be willing to look into that type of academic arrangement and, indeed, consider taking the idea forward?

In my meeting with Vice-President Salehi, as in all such meetings, there were some pretty feisty exchanges. As I said in an earlier answer, there were areas in which there was, frankly, absolutely no agreement, but on the promotion of cultural or academic exchanges, there is scope for progress. I would like to see such progress, so if the hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to send his project to us, we will certainly take a look at it.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving us an update about his visit to Iran. I am pleased to hear that he raised the plight of dual nationals and called for their release on humanitarian grounds, but what response did he get from the President of Iran, and other authorities, when he pressed for the release of my constituent, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? Does he have any indication of what the authorities think about the recent prison health assessments made of Nazanin and her fitness to remain in prison in Iran?

Again, I thank the hon. Lady for her persistent campaigning on this issue. It would probably be best if I said that, yes, of course I raised the humanitarian concerns in a number of consular cases, and that those concerns were taken on board, but it would be wrong to give a running commentary or report about exactly what the Iranian side said in each case.

I thank the Foreign Secretary both for his statement and for his hard work. One hundred and ninety-three Christians were imprisoned or arrested in Iran in 2016. Has he been able to engage with officials on Christian persecution in Iran, and has he secured any result on that?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. That is something that is regularly raised both by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, and by our ambassador, Nick Hopton, in Tehran. The treatment of Christians and Baha’is is a matter of deep concern for this Government, and it is something that we will continue to raise.

I welcome the statement. Does the Secretary of State feel that journalists in the middle east and their families can sleep safer following his visit?

The treatment of journalists worldwide is a subject of grave concern. As I mentioned earlier, I have anxieties about the freezing of the assets of BBC Persian. As long as a society does not have free journalism and a free media, it will not only never be free, but never be truly prosperous or happy.

The conflict in Yemen has been characterised by serious breaches of international humanitarian law on all sides; there have been 318 incidents of concern relating to the Saudi-led coalition. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what discussions he had on his visit about breaches of international humanitarian law, and about the imminent threat to the life of civilians and aid workers trapped in the escalating conflict on the Yemeni Red sea coast?

We have repeatedly stated the importance of getting humanitarian aid into the country, and of allowing humanitarian aid workers to get on with their jobs. As for the observance of international humanitarian law, I said in an earlier answer that we already have the most scrupulous procedures in place of any country in the world.

I also thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement to the House. We have seen protests in this country and throughout the Muslim world against the statement that President Donald Trump made. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with these countries on taking forward the process between Israel and Palestine?

Both the Prime Minister and I have made it clear that we do not agree with what President Trump said about Jerusalem. We do not agree with his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and we do not agree with his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. What the Prime Minister said was welcomed in the region. I found a wide measure of knowledge and appreciation of the UK’s position. We want to encourage our American friends to come forward with the long-awaited plans, which have been gestating, for the middle east peace process. That is the symmetry that the world wants to see from the Trump Administration. In the context of this recognition of Jerusalem, now is the time to bring forth those plans and to do something symmetrical to advance the middle east peace process.

Although we welcome the progress that the Foreign Secretary reported this weekend, may I ask him whether he pressed the Iranian authorities to allow Richard Ratcliffe into Iran, so that if Nazanin cannot be home for Christmas, he at least will be able to visit her and see the state that she is in?

Tempting though it is to go into the details of our discussions on each of these consular cases, given the sensitivity and difficulty of our conversations, it would be better if we just said that we continue to ask for the cases to be treated in the humanitarian way that they deserve, and for those people to be released as soon as possible.

Following on from an earlier question that the Foreign Secretary answered directly, did he personally raise with the Iranian authorities the plight of Christians and other minority religions?

To the best of my recollection, the matter did not come up directly in my conversations, but the subject is raised continuously both by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East and by Nick Hopton in Tehran.