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Iraq and Iran: Stability Talks

Volume 692: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What was the outcome of the recent discussions with Iran on stabilising Iraq.

My Lords, we welcome the fact that the US and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq and Iraqi government representatives met on 28 May in Baghdad. Her Majesty’s Government were not represented at the meeting, so it would not be appropriate for us to characterise the outcomes. However, we have impressed on Iran bilaterally that a stable and secure Iraq is in the interests of all its neighbours, and that Iran should desist from activities which undermine that objective.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I simply remind the House that that meeting, which took place during the parliamentary Recess, was the first direct, open meeting held between the two countries at a senior level for 48 years. Importantly, they both agreed that they wanted to see a stable, secure and democratic Iraq. First, do Her Majesty’s Government welcome the suggestion put forward by the Iranian side that there should be a continuation of that trialogue between Iraq, Iran and the United States over the forthcoming months and years? Secondly, does the Minister agree that it is important for both the United States and Iran to desist from activities that upset and lead to distrust on the part of the other country?

My Lords, on the first question, the organisation of future meetings is, of course, for the parties concerned. However, Her Majesty’s Government would welcome any future contact between the three parties, because we believe that it is important to engage in dialogue and that it is the best way of bringing about a secure situation in Iraq. On the second question, we want all countries, be they neighbours or those active in Iraq, to desist from any actions that destabilise that country or the region itself.

My Lords, would not one of the best contributions to stabilising Iraq be to persuade the Iranians to stop paying 32,000 Iraqi citizens to do their bidding and to stop arming, training and financing insurgent and terrorist groups in Iraq?

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. On every occasion when we meet the Iranians, at every level, we ask them to desist from those actions. The best way to bring about a secure Iraq is to stop outsiders arming insurgents inside Iraq. We have to bring about a secure Iraq to ensure the stability of the region as a whole.

My Lords, the Minister sounds rather complacent. In view of the fact that America’s military blunders in Iraq are getting worse and worse, in an already severely damaged country—with or without Iranian involvement—what is the next step for the Americans if the surge does not work?

My Lords, I am not complacent; neither are the Government complacent at all where Iraq is concerned. We are working in Iraq to bring about a secure situation. What the Americans do in Iraq is, of course, of extreme importance, but that is the policy of the American Government and not the policy of this Government. We work together; we are coalition partners; however, we both have separate policies that interject.

My Lords, it would be good if this dialogue becomes a trialogue and continues, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, has suggested, on the simple principle that to jaw-jaw is very much better than to war-war. Has the Minister had reports—obviously second-hand—about any discussion of Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Is that linked with what, according to the Americans, Iran can or cannot do to reduce the tensions in Iraq? These two matters seem tangled up in American minds. Does she have any light to throw on that division of views?

My Lords, is it the Government’s policy to involve Syria in the stabilisation of Iraq? Can the Minister give any good news on improvements regarding Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan?

My Lords, we support strong bilateral relations between Iraq and all its neighbours, including Syria and Iran. We welcome the recent neighbourhood conference which took place in Iraq in May. We hope that that will provide a platform to build on. I do not have the figures or information to hand about refugees in Syria, but I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, clearly Iran is the regional superpower after the invasion and can use that power for good or for ill. Is it the Government’s view that Iran, although there may be short-term temptations, is prepared to see that in the longer term it has an interest in the unity and stability of Iraq? Is it prepared to disaggregate Iraq from the other pressing problems—nuclear, Lebanon and so on—which affect it?

My Lords, when we have discussions with Iran, obviously Her Majesty’s Government at every level discusses all the issues which are pertinent to our relationship. These include Iraq, stability of the region and the nuclear issue. I assure my noble friend that we now speak to Iran quite regularly on Iraq.