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Volume 634: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2018

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on stability in the middle east of Iranian political and military influence in that region. (903131)

23. What recent assessment the Government have made of the implications for his policies of Iran’s ballistic missile programme. (903149)

We have consistently made clear our concern about Iran’s destabilising and disruptive activity in the region, about its ballistic missile programme —it remains sanctioned by both the EU and the UN— and of course about reported Iranian weapons supplies to the Houthis in Yemen, which would be a violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231. We have set out those concerns with great clarity at the Security Council.

Iran’s support for terrorist groups across the region, its culpability in the destruction of Syria and its threats to wipe the world’s only Jewish state off the map must obviously be condemned by all, but words are not enough. What action is Britain going to take to combat Iran’s destabilising activities and, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned, its ballistic missile programme?

We have—indeed, I have personally—made clear to the Iranian leadership at all levels the deep concern we have in this country about the very issues the right hon. Lady raises. In particular, of course, there is the supply—or the alleged supply—of weaponry to the Houthis, the ballistic missile programme and the breaches of Iran’s obligations under UN Security Council resolution 2231. We are raising those issues not just with the Iranians but with our international friends and partners, to put pressure on Iran to desist from those activities.

My constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still in prison in Iran after 20 months. Despite a lot of attention on her case before the festive period, her husband, Richard, still spent Christmas without his wife and his daughter. When I met the Foreign Secretary, he said he would leave no stone unturned to secure her release. What steps has he taken to fulfil that promise?

I thank the hon. Lady. She and I have discussed this case on several occasions. I think that perhaps the best thing I can tell the House is that work continues assiduously at all levels on all our consular cases in Iran. It is, I am afraid, not particularly helpful in securing the result that we both want to get into detailed commentary at this stage about how we are doing.

More than a year since we re-established diplomatic ties with the Iranian Government, Iran continues to develop its weapons programme, continues to fund regional terror groups and proxies, and continues to crack down on human rights campaigners. What positive fruit can we expect this year from our closer ties with the Iranian regime?

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I would simply remind the House of the virtues of our approach, which is on the one hand to be extremely tough with the Iranians on what they are doing wrong—as I say, they remain a highly disruptive and destabilising force—but on the other hand to do what we can not just to confront them, but to engage with the forces of reform in Iran, which do exist, need encouragement and could be imperilled. That has to be the way forward, and it is one of the reasons why we believe—I know that this sentiment is shared by many in this House—that the joint comprehensive plan of action, the Iran nuclear deal, is valid, represents a considerable diplomatic achievement and should be safeguarded.

What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to combat the growing influence of Iran in both Syria and Lebanon, with weapons focused on Israel, a state that it wishes to annihilate?

The hon. Lady is right to detect the disruptive hand and the destabilising agency of Iran in the region and certainly in the supply of missiles to Hezbollah and weapons to the Houthis. What Iran is up to is well chronicled and, together with our friends and partners, we are working at the United Nations and elsewhere to bring maximum pressure on the Iranians to cease and desist from their activities.

May we erect a new doctrine—perhaps we could call it the Johnson doctrine—that we have learned the lessons of our military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria and never again will we attempt to use military force to remove unpleasant authoritarian regimes and replace them with disastrous totalitarian movements?

My hon. Friend makes—I am afraid—an excellent point. Of course we must push back on Iranian disruptive behaviour—it is entirely the right thing to do and this Government will continue to do it—but we must also be intellectually honest and recognise that collectively over the past 20 years or so western foreign policy has helped to create the conditions, alas, in which Iranian influence has been capable of expanding.

Let us be clear that no peaceful protest should ever be met with violence and no peaceful protesters should ever be locked up and charged with crimes, some of them capital crimes. Can the Foreign Secretary make it clear today that the Iranian regime’s actions over the past fortnight cannot and must not be used as an excuse by the White House to reintroduce sanctions following next week’s deadline and jeopardise the Iran nuclear deal?

I agree very much with the sentiments with which the hon. Gentleman began. It is vital that the people of Iran and the Government of Iran should understand that we in this country support the right to peaceful demonstration within the law. We communicated that message very clearly. It is also important that the JCPOA should continue and that that agreement, which prevents the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons in exchange for greater economic partnership with the rest of the world, remains useful and valid. We continue to urge our friends in the White House not to throw it away.

Does the Foreign Secretary see, as I do, some parallels and similarities between the situation in Iran now and the situation in the former Soviet Union in its declining years? Does he agree that a combination of deterrence, containment and constant pressure over human rights issues is the right one to achieve a similar outcome?

I do agree with my right hon. Friend. Our approach must be extremely circumspect, guarded and tough, but we should also be in the business of encouraging reformers and progressives in Iran who are capable of taking that country forward in a different direction, as Mikhail Gorbachev and others expressed the hopes of many people in their country, in a different way.