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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The United Kingdom's relations with Iran are based on a policy of constructive but conditional engagement. We aim to support Iranian efforts to reform, while making clear our concerns about Iran's policies in areas such as its nuclear programme, human rights and its attitude to the middle east peace process.
Sir Teddy Taylor: Does the Secretary of State agree that Iran, which has suffered so much from the brutal bomb attacks from members of the Mujaheddin e-Khalq organisationthe MKOshould have a meaningful role in discussions on the future of its 3,800 members who are housed in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, which is at present protected by US forces? Would not such a step improve relations between Britain and Iran and confirm the US's declared opposition to international terrorism?
On the detainees at Camp Ashraf, I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that they are a matter for the Iraqi Government and the United States authorities; the United Kingdom is not directly involved. However, I am well aware of the concerns of the Iranian Government. We have made proper representations in the past to the United States Government and to the Iraqi provisional Government, and we will make those too to the Iraqi Interim Government.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)
(Lab/Co-op): What specific representations has the Foreign
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Secretary made to Iran in relation to its practical support for terrorist groups who oppose the existence of a state of Israel? Does he agree that support for terrorism by those who oppose the very existence of the Jewish state is the real barrier to securing a two-state solution to the problems in the middle east, not a defensive fence?
Mr. Straw: There are several problems in securing a positive and peaceful outcome to the problems in the middle east. One of those, as I accept, and always have, is the failure by some states, including Iran, properly to recognise the right of Israel to exist and to live in peace within its declared international borders.
On my hon. Friend's specific question, I have raised that issue on many occasions during discussions with my Iranian colleagues about the MKO, when I point out to them that I declared the MKO to be a terrorist organisation. I also say that we have a consistent and common definition of terrorism. In the same list under the Terrorism Act, as Home Secretary I declared organisations that it supports, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also to be terrorist organisations.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Nearly two weeks ago, we were told in a written ministerial statement that the deadline of 29 June for Iran to return the marine equipment and weapons that were illegally seized from our servicemen on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway had not been met. Two weeks later, it appears that they still have not been returned, yet the silence from the Government is deafening. I have to say that the Foreign Secretary's timidity on this matter is quite extraordinary. Of course, improving relations with Iran is important, but not at any price. Cannot he see that a relationship based on giving in to aggression will always be suspect, and that if Iran wants genuinely to lift the veil of suspicion that hangs over her, she should be publicly pressed to apologise and to return our equipment forthwith?
I simply say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we make judgments about how best to maintain our relations on the basis of the best information available. Very occasionally, the use of a megaphone and a rant, which seems to be his approach, might be appropriate, but on this particular occasion neither a megaphone nor a rant will secure the return of the boats and equipment that are over there.
I also point out that we opposed very strongly, and I deplored, the masking of the service personnel. However, as a result of the diplomatic relations that we have with Iran we were able quickly to get the crew on those boats returned into United Kingdom presence.
The Foreign Secretary may dismiss my remarks, but this is the first time that we have heard him make a statement at the Dispatch Box about the
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incident, three weeks after it took place. I find that extraordinary. Does not the fact that our servicemen were intercepted by Iranian forces while sailing legally in Iraqi waters, forcibly escorted into Iran, and there humiliated by being paraded blindfold constitute a grave and hostile act; and why will not the Government stand up for Britain and say so?
Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman should say what he proposes rather than simply increasing the volume. Does he propose military action against Iranapparently notor breaking off diplomatic relations? Neither proposal is sensible. The Government's approach is sensible and it is remarkable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not suggested a single constructive alternative to our approach.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The Iranian Government's record on human rights is poor to say the least. What representations have the UK Government made to the Government of Iran on human rights in that country, especially with regard to the Kurds?
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We remain in frequent contact with all parties to the Cyprus problem about the way ahead. On 1 July, the Foreign Secretary and I met Mr. Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, in London. Yesterday, I met Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister, Mr. Iacovou at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels. I hope to visit the island shortly to urge both sides to move forward rather than remaining camped on the existing positions.
Bob Spink: Did the Minister manage to meet the mayors of Famagusta, Kyrenia and Morphou on their recent visit to the House? Does he agree that any settlement must include the right for people to return to their homes, businesses and properties? Does he welcome the fact that the three mayors are willing to work closely with Turkish Cypriots to rebuild their communities for the benefit of both communities on Cyprus?
It is vital that all barriers to trade and communication between the north and south are lifted. We want Mr. Talat to lift restrictions and President Papadopoulos to support the EU Commission's proposal to increase trade and transport links to the north.
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The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The United Nations estimated total budget for the elections in Afghanistan is £106 million. The United Kingdom contributed £13 million of that. The UN has indicated that voter registration is now fully funded. It is confident that existing pledges from donors will cover the total cost of the election budget.
Mr. Illsley: When the Foreign Affairs Committee visited Afghanistan in May, we were somewhat surprised to learn that none of the funding that the United Nations had pledged in respect of the Afghan elections had materialised, given that voter registration is lower than was anticipated earlier this year and that the election timetable appears to be slipping. I urge my hon. Friend to put continual pressure on our international partners to ensure that the funding for those important elections materialises.
Mr. O'Brien: The UN has indicated that the funding is forthcoming. Not all of it has arrived but we hope that it will. Six million of the 9 to 10 million potential voters are registered in Afghanistan; 38 per cent. are women. The joint elections management board announced on 9 July the separation of the presidential and parliamentary elections. The presidential elections will be held on 9 October and the parliamentary elections will be held separately in spring 2005. The UN advised President Karzai that there was not enough time to organise more complicated parliamentary elections with 2,500 anticipated candidates. It was unrealistic in the time frame. However, we are satisfied that the presidential elections can go ahead and we hope that the parliamentary elections will take place in the spring.
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