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House of Lords Hansard
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Visit to Oman, UAE and Iran
11 December 2017
Volume 787

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with your permission I will make a Statement on 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 corrosive 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 of its territory had been liberated. During her successful visit to Iraq last month, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister thanked the British service men 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.

But 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, diplomatically and economically, to the crisis in Yemen. The Government strongly believe that the only way of bringing 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. The Sultan and I 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 Cooperation 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 JCPOA, in July 2015. In every meeting I stressed how the UK attaches the utmost importance to preserving that agreement. For the JCPOA to survive, Iran must continue to restrict its nuclear programme in accordance with the deal—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, though 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 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. However, my meetings in Tehran were worth while 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 in the world. Still, 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 do 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 US. 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. We discussed how best to address the missile threat from Yemen, welcoming the United Nations investigation into the origin of the weapons that have been 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. However, it is only by engagement with all the regional powers, including Iran, and 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 regional and American colleagues again early in the new year. I commend this Statement to the House”.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I recognise the huge effort that the Foreign Secretary has put in in recent days on these issues.

I start with the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I am very pleased, as I think all Members of this House are, that the Foreign Secretary met her husband, Richard Ratcliffe and spent the weekend seeking to secure her release. Everyone in this House will wish the Foreign Secretary every success in his endeavours to ensure that she is returned to her family without delay. While I appreciate the Foreign Secretary’s statement that he did not wish to give a running commentary, could the Minister indicate whether meetings were held in Iran with those with the power to change the fundamentals in Nazanin’s case, including representatives of the revolutionary courts, the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Justice? Of course, the Foreign Secretary rightly says that Nazanin’s is not the only consular case of concern in Iran. Was the Foreign Secretary able to make concrete progress in securing the release of Kamal Foroughi and in the other consular cases referred to in the Statement?

Many in this House were concerned at reports from the BBC World Service about the intimidation of Persian Service journalists and their families by the Iranian authorities. What representations had been made to the Iranian authorities before the visit, when these concerns were raised? If we did make those concerns known, did we receive a response prior to the visit and did the Foreign Secretary get a response in Tehran?

On the Iran nuclear deal, the Opposition welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement that Britain will continue to honour our side of the deal as long as Iran continues to do the same. However, as many noble Lords have said, it is not our commitment that is in doubt. What steps are the Government taking in working with our European allies to get the US back on board with the deal?

Turning to Yemen, I very much welcome the fact that as well as visiting Tehran, the Foreign Secretary visited the UAE, Abu Dhabi and Oman, and I appreciate that Yemen was high on the agenda there. 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 to a long-term political solution? Where is the plan for a new UN Security Council resolution, 14 months after the UK first circulated its draft? Last week, the UN Security Council cancelled the scheduled open meeting and instead ran one in private. While I appreciate that progress is often made behind closed doors, the people of Yemen have been waiting two years for any kind of progress to end the war and their suffering, which just gets worse. I hope that today the Minister, in the light of last week’s closed Security Council session, can update us and give us a more concrete idea about a definite road map leading to peace before thousands more die.

The Foreign Secretary said that in Iran he had very frank exchanges with the Iranian Government on Syria. Were any conclusions reached from these exchanges? Is there a more positive assessment of the prospects of a political solution to end the fighting in Syria? Is there any prospect of Iran withdrawing its support for the fighters there? Obviously, the UK and Iranian Governments have considered their red lines, but has the situation changed and have the relationships improved? And have the Government assessed the prospect of holding to account those who have committed the most horrendous crimes in the war in Syria?

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My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I start by referring to the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Iran. I welcome the fact the Minister’s right honourable friend made that visit, and it is surely right that we seek to improve the relationship with Iran. The nuclear deal, to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just referred, in which our colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, played such a key role, was a major milestone. Does the Minister agree that we undermine it at our peril? Does he hope that those around the American President will restrain him when he seeks to do so? Is this a point that his right honourable friend will make when he meets American colleagues in the new year? Does he agree that we need to work very closely with our European allies on this matter?

I am extremely glad that the Foreign Secretary raised the cases of our dual nationals in Iran. The House will know that I have raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in your Lordships’ House on a number of occasions, and I am very glad that he urged the release of Nazanin and other dual nationals on humanitarian grounds. I am glad that he says that no stone will be left unturned; surely that is what is required. I sincerely hope that we will see Nazanin’s release imminently, along with other dual nationals, and I note the quiet dignity with which Richard Ratcliffe raises his wife’s case. Can the Minister assure us that his right honourable friend emphasised Nazanin’s dire health situation? Does he have hope that she might be reunited with her family in the UK for Christmas?

As we seek to normalise relations with Iran, what is the situation with regard to enabling the Iranian embassy here to open a bank account? What is being done to strengthen trading links?

As we all know, the Middle East is such a tinderbox, and it is therefore vital that we strengthen our relations across the region. In the light of that and of the unpredictable nature of the current American regime, might Oman or others in the region play a part in bringing peace in Yemen? Can the Minister update us on what the world can best do, given the terrible situation there? Also, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of the blockade against Qatar on the stability of the UAE?

In conclusion, will the Minister reiterate that his right honourable friend will indeed continue his focus on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? We will all be looking for a positive resolution to her case.

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My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for welcoming the initiative and visit of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. They rightly raised various consular cases, including the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Let me assure all noble Lords that these issues were raised with all relevant parties, including the President, the Foreign Minister and the representatives of the National Security Council. In repeating the Statement, I made a point well made by the noble Baroness when she pointed to the humanitarian grounds in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The sentiments she expressed are ones we all share. We hope and pray for an early resolution of that case and, indeed, all consular cases. I reassure all noble Lords that we continue to raise these issues on a regular and consistent basis, as they were by my right honourable friend in a candid and constructive manner. We will of course continue to update your Lordships’ House as appropriate on progress in this regard, but I particularly thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their appreciation of the sensitivity of all consular cases.

To make a general point about consular cases—I assure noble Lords that I ask for this information myself whenever I am travelling around the world—all Ministers raise issues about consular cases, the number of which may range between 2,000 and 3,000 at any given time. It is important that, wherever people are held, humanity prevails and we see their release expedited.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of BBC Persian. He was quite right: as I again mentioned in repeating the Statement, there have been reports of harassment of BBC Persian staff and their families in Iran, which is very concerning. This has been raised consistently with the Iranian authorities. This is part of a key focus for my right honourable friend on the wider human rights agenda. I can confirm that he raised the particular concerns about BBC Persian with both the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice-President Salehi during the recent visit.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the issue of the JCPOA. I thank them for their continued support. It is important that Britain speaks as one on this important issue. As all noble Lords will be aware, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has reaffirmed to President Trump the UK’s strong commitment to this deal, which is vital for the UK and for regional security. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary repeated this to opposite numbers in Washington during his November visit.

The noble Lord also asked what other groups and countries we are working with. I assure him that we continue to enjoy close co-operation on Iran with the US but also with our E3 partners. Where we have differences, we raise them. It is right that we debate them openly, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has done, but I remain of the opinion expressed by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that retaining and sustaining that deal is extremely important not just to the region but to stability across the world.

The noble Lord also raised the issue of Syria and the importance of holding parties to account, particularly for the atrocities committed by Daesh. I am sure that we all welcome the news over the weekend that not just in Syria but in Iraq Daesh has been defeated. However, no one should be complacent. Organisations such as Daesh continue to rear their head elsewhere in the world, but on Daesh’s accountability specifically in Syria the noble Lord will be aware that we progressed positively on the Security Council resolution in September and allocated £1 million for follow-up of those held for crimes committed by Daesh in that country.

The important issue of Yemen was raised by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. We continue to make representations across the piece: this issue was discussed by my right honourable friend in all the countries he visited. We all share deep concern about the humanitarian crisis. We continue to implore for the opening of all humanitarian corridors, and we raise that issue consistently with Saudi Arabia as well as other players in the region, including Iran. The continued support of different groups in that country is ultimately leading to the humanitarian suffering that we have seen, which has been all too apparent. The recent killing of the former President has led to a further escalation of the political vulnerability on the ground. That said, this is a major issue, a key priority and I assure noble Lords that we will continue to represent the voice of humanity in resolving this conflict at the earliest opportunity. We continue to work with other countries in the region to seek an early resolution.

The noble Baroness also raised more general points about our trade relationship and the specific issue of the Iranian bank account. These continue to be part of the discussion. She will be all too aware that there are certain phases of compliance within the nuclear deal that was struck. We are certainly minded to consider that all agencies and authorities have reported Iran’s adherence to the deal, and continue to move forward in a constructive pattern. As any decisions are made, I will of course share that with the noble Baroness as appropriate.

That said, I can say to all noble Lords that the visit to all the countries was positive. With Iran specifically, discussions were open and candid but also, importantly, constructive.

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My Lords, I refer to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests, being both the chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce and the Government’s trade envoy to Iran. I wholeheartedly agree with what is being said about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Foroughi. I have been in touch with Mr Foroughi’s son about this tragic case.

First, will my noble friend confirm that, on 14 and 15 January, President Trump has to decide whether to waive the sanctions against Iran under the nuclear deal? If he fails to do this, secondary sanctions, which have been lifted in the United States, will spring back into action, and that will legally be a breach of the JCPOA, and will certainly be regarded by Iran as such. That will make it even more difficult for Europe to trade further with Iran.

Secondly, on the question of the Iranian embassy bank account, have the Government considered using the Bank of England there? Does it have sovereign immunity? It is difficult to imagine the Bank of England being prosecuted by the American authorities.

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My Lords, my noble friend speaks from a deep knowledge of the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Iran, and I commend his efforts. He raises the important issue of the nuclear deal. We have certainly been clear. I alluded earlier to the fact that the Prime Minister has been very clear to President Trump on the implications of the decision of the United States. On the specific dates my noble friend mentioned, I shall check the implications and what is pending. I believe that he is correct. The United States, not being part of the nuclear agreement, puts strain on the continuing sustainability of that deal. In saying that, I refer to a point I made earlier: it makes it even more vital to consolidate our efforts and collaborate with other partners, including our efforts through the E3 to ensure that the deal is sustained.

On my noble friend’s point on the Bank of England’s status vis-à-vis the bank account, perhaps I can write to him. Having spent 20 years in financial services, I know that various rules and regulations govern both the central bank and other private banks that may be operating.

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My Lords, I wonder whether there was discussion on Lebanon. Hezbollah has trained up to a very high level in the fighting within Syria, and all the intelligence reports point to the fact that Lebanon is again about to degenerate into civil war. Was there any discussion between the Foreign Secretary and the Iranians, who, of course, are pushing Hezbollah very strongly?

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The noble Lord is right to raise that issue. Yes, there were wide-ranging discussions on all the places where Iran has an influence. Certainly Lebanon featured, as we have been concerned about the situation that has been unfolding, particularly with the leadership and the resignation of the Prime Minister in Lebanon. All those issues were raised bilaterally, as was the importance of ensuring greater stability—that wherever Iran has an influence, it brings it to bear in the positive implications of regional stability, including in the important country of Lebanon.

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My Lords, will the Minister accept my view that the Foreign Secretary was very wise to have gone to Tehran? He seemingly, from the Statement, handled the meetings there well, and his measured handling of the public presentation of the visit is also excellent, which is not invariably the case. Does the Minister accept that it was also good that the Foreign Secretary raised the Persian service issue, as well as the issue of the dual nationals? What has been done to the Persian service and to the relatives in Iran is pretty horrifying, so I am very glad he was able to do that.

I have two questions. First, on the JCPOA, does the Minister agree that probably the most important thing that the British Government could do between now and when President Trump has to take the next decision about sanctions is to make it absolutely clear that, whatever decision he takes, we will not reimpose sanctions and will stick to the JCPOA as long as the Iranians stick with it, and that if the Americans wish to isolate themselves in this context, it will be against our wishes and we will not be swayed by it?

Secondly, does the Minister share the view of the International Relations Committee of this House that nothing is served in terms of British interests by an intensification of the rivalry and tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia? Our interest is surely to use our influence with both those countries and their friends to reduce the tension and to try to come to some kind of modus vivendi in the Gulf region which is better than the current state of intense rivalry.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks, and I shall endeavour to convey them to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The point he makes on the JCPOA is very pertinent, and that is why both my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have raised these issues directly with colleagues and US representatives in Washington, including directly with President Trump. As I have said repeatedly from this Dispatch Box—as have Ministers in the other place—the UK is firmly committed to retaining the JCPOA for exactly the reasons mentioned by the noble Lord. We will continue to lobby the US in that respect.

The noble Lord’s second point was on Iran and Saudi Arabia. I have always maintained that the importance of Britain’s role is to have that sense and strength of diplomacy. We have that strength of communication in retaining those vital links with the likes of both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Never have those links been more important than in the current challenges we face. As noble Lords know, there is a deeply embedded issue that goes beyond just political rivalries, but it is equally important that we not only sustain communication channels bilaterally but continue to strengthen them in calls to the wider region for greater stability.

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My Lords, the conflict in Yemen is essentially conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I know that the Government are aware of that. One of the problems is that the countries in the region are unable to operate effectively against either party to get some sort of agreement. Also, many of their friends outside the region, including the UK and the US, are in a difficult position because they are not seen as wholly independent. Sadly, the UN is unable to be very effective here. I wonder whether the Government have thought a bit outside the box. One of the countries on the edge of the region which has great influence in the UN, and also in peacekeeping operations, is India. Does it have any interest in adding to the pressure on Iran and Saudi to basically back off because the dangers of the spread of conflict are very great?

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On the issue of Yemen specifically, the noble Lord is quite correct that the UK continues to make representations. I am sure he will appreciate that our focus—indeed, that of the Foreign Secretary—has been working with countries in the immediate vicinity. For example, the noble Lord may be aware that the Foreign Secretary hosted a meeting of the quint—that is, the United Kingdom, the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman—as well as the UN special envoy, which took place a couple of weeks ago on 28 November. The noble Lord mentioned the role of India. That is very much a question for India to answer, but I note his constructive suggestion in that regard.

Because of the nature of how the conflict is evolving and how we have seen the different parties who may be involved in supporting the rival factions in Yemen, it is important to bring in all international players to ensure security and stability there. As I have already said in answer to a previous question, that is more vital now than perhaps it has been for a very long time.

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Does my noble friend agree that we all appreciate the efforts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to deal with the dual nationals’ imprisonment and to uphold the nuclear deal, despite the doubts coming from Washington, and so on? But can we be crystal clear about Iran’s other activities in the Middle East? I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about the need for both sides to be more peaceful, but there really will be no prospect of a wind-down of the horrific situation in Yemen—the assassinations appear to be ordered, and then there is the horrific starvation and the constant bombardment by the Houthis—until those revolutionary elements in Iran that are backing it back away themselves, and the more moderate elements, which I am sure exist in Iran, which I am sure that the Foreign Secretary has encouraged, can assert a more reasonable approach. Until that happens, we will see the horrors in Yemen continue, which is a real tragedy.

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My noble friend speaks with great experience. I agree with him. As he will be aware, we issued a Statement in November about the missile attack on Riyadh, to which I alluded in the Statement. I agree that the UK has long-standing concerns about Iranian involvement in other regional conflicts, but particularly in Yemen, which we have raised directly with the Iranian Government. I alluded to the constructive yet candid exchanges that we had—and on this occasion, those that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had—particularly in light of the provision of weapons to the Houthis and forces aligned to former President Saleh. This is very much contrary to Security Council Resolution 2216 and the Security Council’s embargo on the export of weapons by Iran. My noble friend raises some very valid points, but I reassure him and all noble Lords that we continue to raise these issues of concern about Iran’s wider influence—including, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Soley, in areas such as Lebanon—to ensure that Iran takes its responsibilities seriously. When we see suggested violations of any provisions or embargos, we raise them proactively in our bilateral exchanges with Iran.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the more recent matters of concern in the region is the complete breakdown in communications between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, and Qatar? This was raised earlier, but there was no answer to it. Is he aware that Qataris cannot go to funerals in Saudi Arabia any longer, that Qataris who are being educated in Saudi Arabia can no longer complete their education courses there, and that sick children receiving specialist medical treatment in Saudi Arabia can no longer go there to complete their treatment? Is he aware that that means that both Iran and Russia are showing an interest in what is happening in Qatar? When the Foreign Secretary was in the UAE, did he observe any lessening of the division between those countries, or is the separation and lack of communication going to continue?

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The noble Lord is right to raise this issue. We continue to raise the issue of relations with Qatar with the rest of the GCC. The noble Lord will be aware of the efforts that Kuwait has been making in that respect, to which we have certainly lent our strong support. In the recent visits to the UAE by the Foreign Secretary, the very point that the noble Lord raised about the importance of constructive engagement, to ensure that the current status with Qatar can be addressed very quickly—not just by the UAE but by the wider GCC—was very much part of the discussions that took place. I assure the noble Lord that that remains an area of focus for the British Government.

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My Lords, clearly there is much in the Statement to be welcomed. It is equally clear that the visit by the Foreign Secretary had a number of highly commendable outcomes. Is it acceptable to emphasise that we should put on record our appreciation of the immense hard work that has gone on in the Foreign Office to prepare the way for this visit? Does this not illustrate several crucial points for the future of our foreign policy? Is it not unfortunate that on human rights—and I am very glad that the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of executions and the treatment of prisoners in Iran; it is an appalling story—there is no difference between that issue and that of the nuclear agreement? If the nuclear agreement goes wrong, there will be immense potential consequences for the people of Iran, and for others throughout the world. The success of the deal is very much a human rights issue for ordinary people across the world.

On Yemen, can the Minister assure us that the Foreign Office is in constant contact with the humanitarian agencies that are courageously endeavouring against all the odds to try to meet the humanitarian challenges there? Does not that raise the issue that we must keep our strategic approach towards Saudi Arabia under review? We cannot on the one hand be sycophantic towards Saudi Arabia and, on the other, recognise the part that it plays in what is happening in the tragic events of Yemen.

Does not all this show that, in our future foreign policy, whatever the outcomes of Brexit, we must have the closest possible collaboration with our European partners because, in the years ahead, the issues that may arise in the United States are deeply troubling?

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My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point, as he has illustrated, about keeping and retaining communication. The sheer fact that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary visited Iran sends a very clear message about the importance and nature of British diplomacy. Yes, we are strong allies of Saudi Arabia, but it is very much the relationship and alliance that we have with Saudi Arabia that allows us to address some important matters.

The noble Lord raised a very practical point about working closely with other EU countries. I can give no better example than the United States’ recent declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The statement made at the UN Security Council reflected the unity of other members of the Security Council, including our European allies. We stood shoulder to shoulder to say that, yes, we wish to see a secure and safe Israel but, equally, we want to see a viable Palestinian state. The Government’s objective was reflected in the unity that we saw with other members of the Security Council. Notwithstanding our strong and deep relationship with the United States, when we have disagreements we will raise them and we will show that we will be distinct in our status, as we have shown over east Jerusalem. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord recognises—I know he does—the efforts that the Foreign Office has made. He will be all too aware, as a former Foreign Office Minister, of the importance of British diplomacy in this regard. When I look around the world, British diplomacy is quite incredible. Our ambassadors and high commissioners are an important link, and it is those relationships that we nurture across the piece that allow us to have the candid and honest discussions that we have on the international stage.

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My Lords, at the conclusion of this short debate, may I change the focus to Oman and immediately declare an interest? Two or three weeks ago, I spent two weeks there as a guest of my son-in-law, who is the senior British Army officer in that theatre. With him, unofficially, I met a number of very high-ranking Omani officials, including some at ministerial level, and a lot of Omanis at what one might loosely call street level. What came through very clearly from that wide spectrum of association was the tremendous warmth that exists towards this country and the value that they place on our military support. Recognising that there is no formal signed treaty between this country and Oman—nothing has ever been formalised in the many years that we have had that close association—does the Minister recognise, and can he reassure the House, that the warm bilateral relationship going both ways, from the Omanis to us and vice versa, will continue, and we recognise the importance of that relationship in the Gulf?

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The noble Lord is right to raise Oman. I know from my own experience that it is not only a friend but a long-standing British ally in the region, with many shared interests. The noble Lord alluded to various relationships. We share common interests with Oman in the economic, military, counterterrorism and intelligence fields, to name but a few. Let us also not forget that Oman was instrumental in ensuring that Iran came to the table for the historic agreement nuclear deal to which I referred. I reassure the noble Lord that we continue to strengthen our working relationship with Oman. From his previous role he will be very much aware that we have recently increased our support for international best practice by training Omani police in UK police techniques.