TUESDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2003

__________

Members present:

Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Mr David Chidgey
Sir Patrick Cormack
Mr Fabian Hamilton
Andrew Mackinlay
Mr John Maples
Mr Bill Olner
Mr Greg Pope
Sir John Stanley

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DR ALI ANSARI, Lecturer in the political history of the Middle East, University of Durham, examined

Chairman

  1. Dr Ansari, you know that we are conducting an inquiry into Iran in the context of the war against terrorism. Iran is a country of enormous strategic significance and therefore it is appropriate that our Committee looks at it. You are a lecturer in the political history of the Middle East at the University of Durham. The Committee looks forward to your assistance. In 1997 Mohammad Khatami, the liberal cleric, was elected president of Iran. Landslide victory; young people; women; all with great expectations of change. Change there has been, but it has been fairly slow. Can you say why there has been such limited progress towards reform? Is this related to the system? To the president himself? What are those constraints in the system?
  2. (Dr Ansari) First of all I would be one of those who would argue that the change which has occurred in social, cultural and, to some extent, political life since 1997 - it is not simply a consequence of 1997, it has been building very much over the last decade - has been substantial. It is certainly true in my mind that Iran possesses a very dynamic political environment, but where there are failures in the progress of reform, as we would understand it, really it is in the institutionalisation of many of these processes. That is certainly true. But there is resistance from certain sectors, a shrinking minority, it has to be said, of a very hard-line - I would not even call them conservative in this stage - elite who have certain vested financial interests in the system not changing and not allowing this sort of political pluralism that the reformers would like. That is one of the causes. Another reason for the failure to some extent - and I think this is something that really became apparent during my last year in Iran - is that the reformists as a body of politicians themselves are a mixed bag of individuals, to be perfectly honest. Some of them are very good; some of them are very genuine; some of them want change; others of them regrettably, have simply taken on the mantles of the title, so to speak, and have sought to pursue their own interests under that title. Other, perhaps because of political naivety have not really been able to work through the system as they would like. In addition it must be said that there is this view that President Khatami himself has not shown the political will consistent with the ambitions he sought for the country. My own view of President Khatami's position is that he has probably achieved all he can within the current limitations of the system or all that he would like to. He is not a Gorbachev figure.

  3. What are the implications for the future of any sense of disillusionment that stems from that lack of progress?
  4. (Dr Ansari) I think the consequences are very serious in social terms. I think it is quite clear that where ambitions and aspirations for political liberalism have been stifled, it is not unusual and unsurprising to find that young people will become increasingly frustrated and you are sitting, really, on a bit of a pressure cooker. It is not something that the reformists did not warn about. What you are finding is people becoming increasingly alienated from the system.

    Mr Hamilton

  5. Dr Ansari, given the massive majority that President Khatami achieved in 2001, are you saying that he is no longer essential to the process of reform in Iran?
  6. (Dr Ansari) I think President Khatami himself was always a consequence of the move. He is less in many ways - and I think he would be the first to admit this - a leadership force in that sense as a consequence of social changes. Nevertheless it is certainly true that up until 2001 there was the view that he was the best option available. Most people in Iran, to be perfectly honest, do like the man. We have this debate very often that here we have someone who is basically a decent politician, although they say he is not a politician, that is his problem. They say he does not know how to operate the system. On the one hand they want that, on the other hand they say he just does not seem to be able to work the system properly. History will judge him well, but at the moment it is quite clear that there is a feeling - certainly since his election in 2001 - that he has not been able to overcome the obstructions, although we are in the process of waiting two bills which might - and I emphasise the word might - increase his powers. Most people say he is two years late in seeking these, but nevertheless better late than never. There is the view that basically he has lost touch with mainstream youth opinion. That is a view, an interpretation that I am not entirely convinced about, but certainly there is widespread disillusionment with his strength of will.

  7. The late shah's former finance minister, who now lives in America, Jahangir Amuzegar, says in the Journal of Foreign Affairs, January's edition, his final concluding sentences on his article about Iran's crumbling revolution are, "the theocracies' days are numbered; Iran's own internal currents assure this." Do you agree?
  8. (Dr Ansari) In broad terms, yes, absolutely. I do not like to use the term theocracy, but the system as it stands at the moment is not sustainable if it refuses - and it is a minority here who are being very difficult - to adapt to the needs of the young people (and the needs and the pressure are there; Iran is unique in this respect in the Middle East). It is not sustainable as it stands.

  9. I think it is only recently that Ayatollah Montazeri has been released from house arrest, if I am not mistaken. Is there any significance in this?
  10. (Dr Ansari) I think it is significant, but I think it is significant also because the hard-line establishment was somewhat worried that he might die under house arrest.

  11. Am I right in remembering correctly that it was Ayatollah Montazeri who first suggested that Islam should not be integral to the government of Iran?
  12. (Dr Ansari) He is not the only one to have said this. He is probably one of the most prominent people who have said this. Iran at the moment is very divided amongst themselves. The ayatollahs take very different views. It is somewhat of a chauvinistic view but they take the view that there are the Iranian ayatollahs and the Iraqi ayatollahs; the Iraqi ayatollahs are the ones who came from Najaf. They then to argue that the Iraqi ayatollahs are somewhat more hard line than the Iranian ayatollahs. It is not strictly speaking true. Nevertheless, there is a view pervasive among a number of clerics - let us not forget that President Khatami is a cleric - that any reform will come from the clerics. It will be determined by the clerics and they feel that religion in Iran, Islam, as a faith is suffering because of the state's persistent intervention, because of the state's role in being part of the religious process, not being a secular state.

  13. It was Montazeri who was seen at one stage as the natural heir to the ayatollah.
  14. (Dr Ansari) That is right. Montazeri, like all Iranian political leaders have tended to see a change in views over the years. It is natural over 24 years, a war, a revolution, you tend to have your views changed in some ways. He is seen now as someone who has seen the error of his ways or he has decided that the current system is not sustainable and what is important about him is that he has a lot of followers in the government. He has a lot of people in government who are his religious disciples, if I can use that word.

    Mr Olner

  15. Ayatollah Jaluluddin Taheri recently announced his resignation as leader of the Friday Prayers in Esfahan. This was an ayatollah of long standing, this was an ayatollah who had been appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini from exile as far back as 1976. Did his resignation start to cause ripples of unrest, where a person of such long standing decided that he was so concerned about the poverty, the politics of the Ayatollah's, that he felt he needed to resign. How much impact did that have?
  16. (Dr Ansari) I think Ayatollah Jaluluddin Taheri's resignation speech was enormously significant but it was somewhat dampened by the fact that President Bush made a comment on the airways the day afterwards and proclaimed his support for Mr Taheri which was not the right way to do it.

  17. We all sometimes suffer from what Mr Bush says.
  18. (Dr Ansari) Certainly Ayatollah Taheri comes from the left-leaning ayatollahs. He was appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini well before the revolution. Because of his age, because of his proximity to the Imam and the origins of the revolution he was extremely important. I was in Iran at the time of his resignation speech and it did resound. It was not the only comment to come out of a senior ayatollah. At the time there were other senior ayatollahs that made similar comments. Ayatollah Taheri's was probably the most explicitly hard hitting in a sense. The city of Esfahan has also seen a number of its prominent leaders thrust into prison. It is not the most happy city as far the hard-line establishment are concerned. Taheri is really reflecting that.

  19. That was one ripple. The other ripple is about student protests within Iran. Iran is well blessed with a fairly young population that is, to a large extent, fairly well educated.
  20. (Dr Ansari) That is correct.

  21. Do you think they are sufficiently well organised, as a ripple, to pressurise further conservative changes within Iran?
  22. (Dr Ansari) I think the student movement has suffered considerably since the 1999 demonstrations and riots that emerged. Nevertheless in my view it remains an organised force for change. Reporting on the student movement in Iran at the moment is not as widespread as it could be. Because the students remain such a thorn in the establishment's side they tend to be marginalised so far as the public are concerned. In my view, both as a historian and a political scientist, the role of the students in Iran in developing new ideas will remain a major force for change along with other groups, including the journalists and others. It is principally because they are seen as a major force for change that they have been so heavily attacked by the establishment. They are not going away and, as you say, the population is so young that every year you are getting another wave; it is like a human wave attack every year and it is pretty difficult to resist eventually.

  23. Do you think there is going to be peaceful change within Iran over the next two or three years with the political system that they have, or is that political system not capable of being reformed and there needs to be a velvet revolution.
  24. (Dr Ansari) I would say that Iran's political system is very much in the process of evolutionary change but evolutionary change that needs a kick now and then to get it going because it does not seem to want to move very quickly. I will put two caveats onto that, however. The vast majority of people in Iran - I would say 99 per cent of Iranians - would want peaceful change; one revolution in a lifetime is enough as far as they are concerned. There are two issues here that are unknown to some extent. One is the impact of what will happen in neighbouring Iraq over the next six months, or month, depending what the timetable is; that will certainly have an impact on the domestic situation in Iran. The second is really the ability of certain elements within the establishment, I am thinking particularly of the judiciary, to needlessly provoke the population. If you needlessly provoke the population then you are likely to elicit a response which will be considerably more violent than need be. If you do not provoke the population when there is no need, I think the system will internally change on its own, rather slower than some people may want, but nevertheless there are other forces for change that will push it in the direction which I would be more happy with.

    Sir John Stanley

  25. Dr Ansari, we understand that one of the policies that is strongly favoured by the government or Iran is that the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the NCR, should be made a proscribed organisation, as a terrorist organisation. I should be grateful if you would tell us whether you would agree with such a policy and if not why not?
  26. (Dr Ansari) The National Council of Resistance is generally seen as a political body or an organisational body and since the late or mid 1980's has really come under the effective control of an organisation known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq organisation. The MKO or the MEK - depending on the acronym you want to use - is a body of somewhat militant resisters to the Islamic Republic. They have their own bones of contention with the clerical regime. They were involved in a fairly bloody civil war with the clerical regime in 1980/81. They are now based north of Baghdad and effectively they live on the grace and goodwill of Saddam Hussein, which does not help. According to the state department it has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation. As far as most Iranians are concerned - and I know there is a certain amount of controversy about this - most Iranians, because of their situation in Iraq and because of their affinity and affiliation with Saddam Hussein, and because of the experience of eight years of war, do not see the Mujahedin-e Khalq as a likely contender for any form of regime change. Most of them probably detest them more than they do the clerical regime, principally because of nationalist objections, to be perfectly honest. I mean, you do not sit in Iraq; it is an absurd situation to be in. My view is that parliamentarians both in this country and the United States - and European Union to some extent - should be a lot more judicious in their associations with the National Council of Resistance, principally because they are widely seen and probably are the political wing of an organisation that is proscribed as a terrorist organisation under the eyes of the state department of the United States.

  27. If you want to express a view to us we would be glad to have it, do you believe that the British Government would be justified and right to follow the same policy as the US government by making the organisation a proscribed one?
  28. (Dr Ansari) My own view is that if the British Government seeks to pursue its interests in the long term should do all it can to support the process of democratisation in Iran in line with the growth of nationalism in the country. Support for the Mujahedin-e Khalq is not compatible with it. I would distance myself from them.

    Mr Pope

  29. Dr Ansari, in this country most of us have viewed the tensions between reformers and conservatives as being focussed primarily on Iranian domestic policy. Could I just ask you about foreign and security policy. In your opinion do reformers have a different agenda for Iranian foreign policy than the conservatives?
  30. (Dr Ansari) I think the reformist/conservative divide in Iran is now a little outdated in some ways. For the purposes of analysis it is useful. I think in foreign policy terms the major difference between reformists and conservatives is this, the reformists would like Iranian foreign policy to be conducted through the standard organs of government - ie the foreign ministry, the other ministries - under the leadership of the executives and so on and so forth. Whether their views on foreign policy would be dramatically different is another matter. A good case in point is the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. It is certainly a much more widespread view and I know few Iranians - even Iranians abroad - who see no problem with Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons program. They live in a dangerous neighbourhood. We should remember of course that the nuclear weapons program was started under the shah with German help. It is not something that the Islamic Republic has suddenly taken up; this is something that pre-dates that. The other thing that we have to bear in mind is that there are elements within the extreme right who are quite keen to pursue their own foreign policy irrespective of what goes on in government, and this is a problem. We have a lot of Oliver North's in Iran.

  31. Could I ask about the impact of President Bush's State of the Union speech last year when he included Iran in the axis of evil. I think quite a number of us were surprised that that happened. One can see a case for Iraq and a case for North Korea being in an axis of evil, but I think a number of us were quite surprised that Iran was included. Many people in Europe thought that this was a tactical mistake. Our best bet is a constructive engagement with Iran, encouraging reformers, and by denouncing the whole of Iran as being part of an axis of evil that would weaken reformist elements. Can you just tell us what the net effect has been and has it hindered the reform process?
  32. (Dr Ansari) If George Bush had omitted the phrase "axis of evil" it would have been a lot, lot better. Many Iranians were quite happy with the fact that there was unelected minority. They had no objections to that in principle. What they objected to was being bound in with two other countries, particularly the Iraqis whom they do not have a huge amount of love for; the people were somewhat baffled by North Korea. It had a bad effect in two ways. One is that the reformist government of President Khatami had really bent over backwards to help in the Afghan war. They probably did more than was publicly known. This was the consequence of that - it played very badly in Iran. It said, "You can't trust the Americans, what the hell are we doing?" On the other hand, it also had a negative effect on the key constituents, particularly students and young people who felt somewhat let down. They have a somewhat idealist perspective of the west and the United States in particular, and I think this was a bit of a shock to the system. I have to agree that tactically it was a mistake. The fact that within two or three months he was talking about sitting down and having a dialogue with evil obviously made it quite clear.

    Mr Chidgey

  33. Dr Ansari, Commissioner Chris Patten visited Iran last week. One of the things he said in advance of his visit was, "We in Europe have a huge interest in Iran's development. Without wishing to interfere, we hope that Iran will recognise that the process of reform opens the way for Iran to play a more significant role regionally and globally." To what extent does the European Union's policy of engagement help to strengthen reforms in Iran? Does the EU policy not simply add a veneer of respectability to what many would call a deeply repressive regime?
  34. (Dr Ansari) There is truth in what you say to the extent that the European Union and the nature of the European Union means that on occasions that policies seem inconsistent. If it has inconsistencies in the approach of its policies it means that basically you are not getting your main points across. I think that Iran remains immensely important for Europe and for Britain in particular in the next century, certainly in terms of gas supplies. I think Iran's development as a leader in Islamic democracy is going to be extremely influential. I do agree that there are elements where Europe could improve upon some of its critical dialogue. Maybe its dialogue or critical engagement should be a little bit more critical and a little bit more consistent. The main area which I certainly hear a good deal of grumbling about - sometimes from some very surprising quarters - is really on the issue of human rights. I think sometimes, while other issues are less important for ordinary Iranians, there is a view that on the issue of human rights the moral clarity of the Bush administration can often seem more attractive to young Iranians than the ambiguity in some ways of the European Union, particularly where you have this revolving presidency. I do not want to name names, but there are certain countries - not Britain - that they are more critical of in terms of their position.

  35. Human rights is not the only area of difference between the EU and Iran. Two others, for example, would be Iran's involvement with weapons of mass destruction and Iran's approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts which, some would argue, include support for terrorist cell organisations. How much do you believe that Iranians value the dialogue that they currently have with the European Union? Why is it seen from the Iranian perspective as important?
  36. (Dr Ansari) I think the dialogue is vital. It is immensely important to the Iranians both on commercial, cultural and political grounds.

  37. If it so important to the Iranians, could we, in the EU, be doing more to press the Iranians for reform as part of that dialogue.
  38. (Dr Ansari) Any form of encouragement and pressure has always been judiciously used and I think it is difficult sometime with the EU to get a coherent statement out. I think there has to be a better balance of carrot and stick, certainly. There are people within Iran who would like the EU to be harder on certain issues, certainly if there is a question of a hard-line reaction in the country. If number of people were executed in Iran, for instance, they would like to feel that the European Union would not have a token protest, withdraw their ambassadors for a week and then trundle back; that, to most Iranians, does not make sense. On the other hand there has to be an element where you do support and encourage trade agreements, educational links and other areas which would be of tremendous appeal to a lot of young Iranians. I cannot emphasise that more. Rather than encouraging certain elements of the elite to get richer, it would be helpful if we encouraged certain members of the younger generations to get to know and be friendlier towards Europe.

  39. On the question that you raised as to executions and the withdrawing of ambassadors for a week, you will be aware that one of the issues that is of great concern to us in the west is the executions by stoning. You are also aware that it was announced in late December last year that the judiciary would not long order executions by stoning and the judges would issue alternative forms of punishment, particularly for adultery. This was a suspension, of course, not a permanent change. What concerns us is that the EU policy of engagement with Iran, we could argue has produced few tangible results. It is a relatively new policy so if reforms are not forthcoming at what point would you assess should the EU draw their line in the sand, their red line and refuse to go ahead with negotiations, for example towards the trade cooperation agreement rather than withdrawing ambassadors for a week?
  40. (Dr Ansari) It is going to be much more difficult to make views heard on the issues heard on the issue of executions where a criminal offence is considered to have happened. If there is an execution for murder I do not think there is anything the EU to do. There have been few, if any, executions since 1997. I am talking about political executions, political prisoners.

  41. Not stoning for adultery?
  42. (Dr Ansari) That is a separate issue. I think that is an issue that has to be dealt with. It is very interesting that in Iran there is this very dynamic environment of religious interpretation. In terms of religious law in the last ten years there has been a lot of discussion, and this is not something that Ayatollah Khomeini would have been alien to; he would interpret the law. Again this is more applicable to Shi'aism than Sunnism to be honest, one interprets the law in line with your own time, in line with your own age. Therefore, when you come to the modern age you obviously have to interpret the law according to your own age. There are clerics who do not subscribe to that view. Because of the judicial system and the fact that the judicial system in Iran has a certain independence from the law let alone from the executive, and certain judges seem to act in ways which are somewhat baffling to most Iranians, I think these are a problem and these are issues which I certainly think that a more firmer stand would be seen as positive. I am not a religious jurist, I am probably not qualified to judge on this, but the fact is yes, in the twenty-first century in a country like Iran with the civilisation that it has, I think the stoning of women for adultery is absurd.

    Sir Patrick Cormack

  43. Dr Ansari, could we move on to British relations with Iran. How far are Iranian attitudes conditioned by what one might call historical pre-conceptions and how far do they differentiate between Britain and the United States in this?
  44. (Dr Ansari) Anglo-Iranian relations are both blessed and cursed by their historical nature. Britain was the major power in Iran for a hundred years, from the 1850's right through to the nationalisation of oil. There are a number of major British companies which can see their roots in Iran and certainly in the exploitation of Iran and resources. There is certainly a sneaking admiration for the British; there is a strong Anglophilia among many Iranians, certainly in government as well. While politically they may not have liked what Britain did, they do believe that Britain knows how to run things politically; Britain knows politics. There is a saying that the Russians have force, the Americans have dollars and money but the British have politics. The British understand how to manage things. There is certainly the view that among some Iranians that Iran is the only country in the world where the British Empire still exists. This provides Britain with great advantages in terms of pursuing its commercial, political and cultural relations in Iran. There is a strong interest in Britain in culture and language and British universities. But it does have the negative effect and the negative impact is this fear that Britain politically interferes too much and also there is a view that Britain is far too closely attached to the clerical classes in Iran. Certainly among young people it is something which the Americans can gain from.

  45. How far is their attitude towards Britain going to condition their attitude towards any conflict involving Iraq?
  46. (Dr Ansari) Their attitude towards Britain?

  47. Yes.
  48. (Dr Ansari) Their attitude towards any conflict in Iraq is somewhat anomalus with the rest of the Middle East. They are distressed by the fact that there will be civilian casualties, but there is no love lost. Frankly, the western allies have been doing Iran's foreign policy a great favour over the last year by eliminating both the Taliban on the one hand and potentially Saddam Hussein on the other, both great blood enemies of Iran. There is certainly a feeling at governmental level, establishment level and societal level that they really cannot get excited by the fact that Saddam Hussein may be gone in a couple of months. They may not have really thought through the consequences of what this may mean to the Middle East. This is a different issue. There are certainly concerns amongst those who think about this a bit more deeply about what the Americans may have in store for them afterwards. That is a worry. I am not sure if the Americans know what they have in store for Iran afterwards so it does not really matter at the moment, but there is that concern. I do not think it will adversely affect Anglo-Iranian relations, no.

  49. What particular distinctive opportunities do you see as being available to this country in promoting better relations with Iran and also helping to promote better relations between Iran and the west generally?
  50. (Dr Ansari) Iran is the great missing part of the jigsaw in the Middle East. We hope for a diplomatic revolution which will essentially see Iran restored in a way to its important role in the region for central Asia, the Persian Gulf. If you had a pro-western Iran it would make like a lot easier. A lot of other problems would dissipate. Recently the Indian and the Iranians have signed agreements, some say more defence style agreements. It is a sign of the way things are going. Clearly the target for this is Afghanistan, Pakistan, essentially what they feel are the common threats of Islamic radicalism.

  51. You have talked about Britain being pro-active and in a sense you have just been saying that in different words. If you were to suggest two or three particular lines that Britain should take over the next year or two, what would they be?
  52. (Dr Ansari) Britain has to be very careful because of historical experience and how it deals with Iran. Nevertheless I would say that you want to make sure that you seem to align yourself with the aspirations of the young in Iran. They will be the future, they will be the people coming to power eventually. You would not want to be seen to be tied to a very reactionary establishment. That is one thing. In order to pursue that there are various routes that I think are important. Education is the key cultural asset that Britain has. English is very much in demand; British universities are very much in demand. The British council in Iran are doing an excellent job in Iran on this. These are areas you can work on, as well as the standard and commercial and trading agreements and the ability to move on on those. Keep in mind those aspects of human rights which are certainly important to the Iranians. If a student is arrested for no reason that we can perceive and thrust into prison, if someone is condemned to death because he has spoken his mind, it does help to be able to say that we think this is wrong. I do not think there is any problem in that. We just have to be judicious in how we do it. Nevertheless these things play well; we live in an increasingly unitary world. People watch the BBC World Service.

  53. So be frank and friendly.
  54. (Dr Ansari) Yes.

    Mr Maples

  55. I want to bring you back to the conflict between the reactionary forces and the progressive forces or whatever labels you chose to put on them. We were discussing this with a senior Iranian government minister the other day, in particular the ability of the Council of Guardians to overrule acts. He said it was not as simple as that. If there was a difference between the two there was further council to turn to. He said that did not always rule in favour of the Council of Guardians. Could you tell us how that works and how often it does come down on the side of the progressive forces?
  56. (Dr Ansari) The system was set up as a legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini in order to have as many checks and balances as he possibly could. I think this is part of the argument against this notion that it is an autocratic or dictatorial regime. If it was it would be more efficient than it is. There are many different bodies and they all like to interfere and to relate to each other. Constitutionally speaking the power to legislate resides with the Majalis, the parliament which is elected by universal suffrage. In order to ensure that the laws are compatible with Islamic law and do not contradict Islamic law in a particularly harsh way, you have a Guardian Council of twelve jurists, six of which are religious lawyers, six of which are lay lawyers. Six, if I understand correctly are elected by the Majalis (although there have been problems with this), the other six are appointed by the supreme leader. Where these two bodies cannot agree, where, for instance the Guardian Council continues to return legislation to the Majalis because it is not good enough then a third body was instituted which was meant to include all the great and the good, again nominated by the leader, who would then take a decision; it is like an arbitration council. The problem is that when you have a radical group of MP's in the Majalis faced with two much more conservative establishment bodies in terms of the Expediency counsel and the Guardian Council, then frankly the Majalis is not going to get very far. When the bodies were set up the Guardian Council was only meant to have a supervisory role on legislation, a very loose oversight role. Now it has become much, much more interventionist. It has been given the right to be much, much more interventionist and it often makes judgments on laws. The one that was quite interesting was the issue of torture. The law banning torture was sent up to the Guardian Council and the Guardian Council, technically speaking, can only reject it if it is on Islamic grounds. On Islamic grounds, so far as I can see, there is no justification for torture, but nevertheless they rejected and said, "No, no, there must be a case". Having read the Economist over the last couple of weeks I see that torture is a much more acceptable thing even in the west, sadly. This situation has meant that there is an element of gridlock. It has not worked as well as it should. That is why there is new legislation going through to see whether the Majalis can regain some of the powers it had. A lot of this will depend on whether the leadership will intervene. At the moment we have a structural gridlock.

    Mr Hamilton

  57. Can we return to the reaction of Iran to a possible attack on Iraq. On a recent trip to the United States we were told by someone in the state department that it could well be in the next ten or fifteen years - and this really reflect what you were saying - that Iran is the greatest ally of the west in the region and that that would have enormous impact on future peace in the region. Leaving that to one side for the moment, how do you feel that Iran - or the different constituent components of the Iranian state - will react after an American or US led attack on Iraq?
  58. (Dr Ansari) There are many people in society who actually see a US led invasion of Iraq as a welcome thing. They think it will just be the catalyst that is required to push the reform process forward. How this is going to work I could not really tell you, but nevertheless there is that view. There are others that feel that Saddam Hussein is in the front line of the defence of Iran and that if you let Saddam Hussein go down the tube Iran will be next on the list. These are a minority as well. A lot depends on the way in which the United States seeks to devise its policy towards Iran and I have to say that for the first time in 24 years I think the United States is devising a policy towards Iran. I do not think it has had one. The way Iran will react to any intervention in Iraq will depend on the attitude of the United States and the European Union and Britain towards the notion of Iranian sovereignty, towards the notion of Iran as an independent sovereign state with a national ideal. There are views - minority views -in Washington that I have heard that say after they have finished with Iraq and have created a federal democracy they will then move on to the last great empire in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, and go in and dismember that one. This is a view that I have heard. This sort of thing would be disastrous if it caught on in Iran. One of the things that I cannot stress enough - it has not been taken on board because we are so engrossed with ideas of Islam in Iran and the Islam republic and the revolutions - is that we must not underestimate the strength of Persian nationalism. Persian nationalism is extremely strong. If you can mollify that, say, "Look, we are going to hammer Iraq, get rid of Saddam Hussein, but we value Iran and the Persians are a great people" (and mean it, of course) then yes, you will find the Iranians will be very good friends.

    Chairman: That is a very good warning note on which to end. Thank you very much.

    MR STEVE CRAWSHAW, Director, Human Rights Watch and MS ELAHE SHARIFPOUR-HICKS, Researcher on Iran, Human Rights Watch, examined.

    Chairman

  59. Mr Crawshaw, you are Director of Human Rights Watch. Ms Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks, you are a researcher on Iran for the same organisation, Human Rights Watch. May I welcome you both. Mr Crawshaw is an old hand and has helped the Committee quite recently on general human rights matters. Having welcomed you, would you set the platform for the Committee by saying what are your most serious concerns on human rights in respect of Iran?
  60. (Mr Crawshaw) We would echo many of the points which we have just heard. Perhaps the most important thing is to say that one needs to realise that there are indeed the two parallel processes going on in Iran and that commitements that may have been made - or partially made - on one side are being either ignored or simply trampled on the other side. I think it is important to constantly press. On the one hand one is pressing on the conservatives, but those with whom the dialogue is most direct is clearly with the reformers and they, too, must take an active role in ensuring that the whole range of really quite terrible incidences that are going on at the moment need to be taken in hand.

  61. What are the most awful?
  62. (Mr Crawshaw) To take one obvious thing which has knock on effects in other contexts is the closure of a large number of newspapers and magazines, which is simply freedom of expression. But it goes beyond that. People associated with that have then been jailed, forced to make confessions - confessions of absurd alleged crimes of wishing to overthrow the government - under the force of torture. People then tried to withdraw those again. But the whole issue of people being held, held without trial, tortured while in jail and disappearing on some occasions into a kind of black hole of justice. There was the notorious prison 59, but in broader terms people are being jailed and that is happening quite outside all forms of legality. That is an extraordinary important issue. The positive signs that we are seeing of wishes for change have often not been implemented fully and on the other hand things have been strongly blocked.

    Mr Pope

  63. We were told recently by a senior figure in the Iranian government that Iran did not have the worst human rights record in the region, which I did not find terribly reassuring. We have evidence of people being executed after an unfair trial. We have evidence of students being detained, religious minorities persecuted, critics of the government harassed, underground shadowy military organisations linked to hard-line clerical movements. This really is a terrible situation. It seems to me that it really is not getting any better. What is your assessment?
  64. (Mr Crawshaw) You are right that in many respects things do not seem to be getting better. On the other hand - and I think this is what one really needs to clutch for - there was a commitment made last year on allowing in United Nations rapporteurs into the country. On the debit side, that commitment has still not been made in writing and that is where it really needs to be so that can measure it. On the credit side, we have an UN official going in as chairman of the working group on arbitrary pensions. He is going to go into the country probably within the next few days and he will be back from his visit by the time that you get there. This is the kind of thing which does imply at least the possibility of movement. I think what is terribly important is to realise those possibilities are there. President Khatami as you also know has made a stand - which was perhaps not strong enough - saying that power needs to lie with the presidency. You cannot have all these other forces moving in and taking the power away from the presidency. He has not been powerful enough. We feel he needs support on that. All of these things indicate that there is movement whereas there are systems where there is simply no movement at all.

  65. Sometimes in the west we look at human rights as being an absolute freestanding proposition that human rights is a good thing and abuses of human rights are a bad thing. I am sure we would all sign up to that. I am interested in the political effect of these abuses of human rights is. In terms of the authorities is it actually working in holding down opposition to the system or is it having the obverse effect of that in which the more you repress people the more they aspire to freedom?
  66. (Mr Crawshaw) It is absolutely not working. I think it is one of the great fantasies that one still hears sometimes - not in this room - how human rights are a western invention and being imposed. Certainly in my travels around the world and Human Rights Watch's experience over the years is that you never hear it from the people themselves whose human rights are being abused. Whichever country you are in those people actually mind very deeply about basic rights being removed, which may be as basic as being able to say what you think when you walk into the greengrocers in the morning without fear of being picked up by the secret police. The danger of putting a lid on things undoubtedly creates the danger of greater instability rather than greater stability. I think people who introduce repressive mechanisms sometimes do persuade themselves that repression is a way of keeping stability. That is quite wrong. I think the student unrest is something which one can see is a small element of that. It has been mentioned earlier that there is a very large, young, educated population and to try to repress the very clear desire for changes within society could backfire very badly indeed.

  67. You mentioned that newspapers were being repressed on a more widespread basis. I noticed in the briefing note that one paper was closed down on the charge of insulting the authorities. This idea of repressing newspapers, is what happens that it is like capping a volcano, that the pressure for freedom of expression will just find another way out? So while it may be relatively easy to close down a newspaper, that will find another way of expressing opposition to the system. You mentioned the student protest. Is that really what is happening?
  68. (Mr Crawshaw) Yes, the pattern you have described is a very clear pattern. If you push something down in one place and it pops up somewhere else. What is particularly alarming is that it has not just been the closures of the papers, but also the jailing and horrific treatment of the managing editors, the editors themselves. Even by the standards of media suppression in many parts of the world, this is very strong. There is that sense that society has not come to a standstill; this is not a repressive regime where it can simply put down and you do, of course, have part of the ruling structure which has popular legitimacy and the difficulty is to reconcile those two things, the part that has popular legitimacy and broadly wishes to give the kind of things which a great proportion of society wish to see and others who take on to themselves a given legitimacy but which society has perhaps not given to them. That is clearly an explosive combination.

    (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) I would add to Steve's comments that they closed more than 90 newspapers in the last two years. They are using a criminal law - an instrument of a crime for the hands of criminals - and using that law to close newspapers. Recently the remaining reformists that did not get sent to jail have opened web sites and they have their own web sites now. In the last few months the judiciary is thinking of a way of closing web sites and jailing those who are running them. In the past newspapers worked as a political party and a reform agenda was put in those newspapers and that is why they have become a target. The Iranian leader said there should be no amendment to the press law. President Khatami, to his credit, at the beginning promised freedom of expression but unfortunately even though it was prepared by the cabinet, by the president, it has not been introduced to the parliament to amend the press law.

    Sir Patrick Cormack

  69. You heard the exchange I had with our previous witness. When I asked him if he thought that our attitude in Britain should be frank and friendly he agreed emphatically. Do you also agree with that?
  70. (Mr Crawshaw) We do, yes. We do not believe that the EU dialogue - or indeed between Britain and Iran - should be halted. It is extremely positive and can play a very, very positive role. That, if you like, is the friendly bit of your phrase. Beyond that there is the possibility of a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Sometimes there is a danger that people thing that they have such a good dialogue going on that they should not do the rude thing of making a critical resolution. Our feeling is that these things can work in symmetry together and that if improvements are not there then a resolution is needed to regret that fact. The dialogue should be seen to be taking things forward. Can I also put on record on behalf of Elahe Hicks personally but also on behalf of Human Rights Watch that during a mission when she was in Tehran last year there were a number of very complicated security concerns. Diplomats at the British Embassy were extraordinarily helpful and went to some lengths to be extraordinarily helpful. It was, for us, a very nice signal that the British Foreign Office takes the issues of human rights very seriously.

  71. I am sure we are all appreciate that going on the record. I had a lot of dealings in the early 1970's as chairman of the campaign for the release of soviet Germany with those who were persecuted for their religious beliefs behind the former iron curtain. I came across some pretty horrific examples as you would well know. Would you like to say a word or two about religious persecution and can you compare it with the sort of persecution that did exist in the Soviet Union at its most repressive? Is it worse than that or is it on a par with that?
  72. (Mr Crawshaw) Religious persecution and restrictions are serious. I think my view in terms of your comparative question - and I studied in the Soviet Union and Communist Russia is something I knew well - I do think we are talking of a different level here because it was so ideologically driven that you were simply not allowed at any level to have that set of beliefs, a situation which does exist elsewhere in the Middle East. As you say, there are a number of restrictions.

    (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) In Iranian law, penal code, civil code, discrimination against religious minorities is legalised. There are three recognised religions: Jewish, Christians and Zoroastrians. They are recognised and have MP's in parliament. But they have problems. Issues such as access to higher education, access to a job cause problems. The largest religious minority with 300,000 are the Baha'is. They have right now four Baha'is who were committed to death row but now are sentenced to life imprisonment purely because they are Baha'i. They do not have access to higher education. If a student graduates from high school and says he or she is Baha'i they cannot go to university because they are Baha'i. They do not have a job. They do not have the right to worship publicly.

  73. As far as the Christians and the Jews are concerned, we did talk to a fairly high placed Iranian official not very long ago who suggested that there are Christian members of the Majalis and Jewish members and so on, and that all was really exaggerated here in the west. Would you like to just say a word about that, particularly in the context of the Christians and the Jews.
  74. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Last year a Jewish MP addressed the Parliament and complained about the issues they are facing like employment and better life, access to better life inside the country. They have a Sunni MP in the Parliament who complained about problems. The most backward place in the country is the Sunni, the system in Baluchistan and the education and other issues they are facing. They do not have any mosques in Tehran, the capital. Sunni are Muslim. The majority of Iranians are Shi'ai and the official religion in the country is Shi'ai. The Sunni had the same problems addressed by their MP in the Parliament.

  75. Much of what you have said one could say was deprivation rather than active persecution. Is there a lot of active persecution?
  76. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Active persecution against largest minority Baha'i, yes.

  77. And active persecution against Christians and Jews? Yes or no?
  78. (Mr Crawshaw) No. Evangelical Christians. They allow Muslims to go to their churches; they can no longer do that. They have three bishops that have been killed in 1996 and the government have never found out who was behind the killing. They belonged to evangelical churches.

    Mr Hamilton

  79. On 3 February Human Rights Watch wrote to the Foreign Secretary in advance of his meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister and said, "We welcome you government's efforts to develop better ties with Iran and to encourage the country's closer integration with the norms and standards of the international community. We hope that your government uses this relationship to ensure better compliance with human rights standards by the Iranian government and to remind the Iranian Foreign Minister of the promises made hy the government of President Khatami to pursue an agenda of reform in the human rights field. Such reforms have yielded very little concrete progress as yet." At what point do you think that you would advocate an end to the process of engagement with Iran currently pursued by the British Government?
  80. (Mr Crawshaw) I am not sure that we would wish to put the question that way round. I am sorry to be evasive. I try not to be in this context because in a sense that implies the acceptance of a kind of defeat which I do not think we would wish to. I am sorry if that seems cowardly that I am not going there. I would turn it around to a version of what we were saying in the letter which is that I think the temptation sometimes is to be so pleased that a dialogue is going on that one ignores terribly important things which are not being done. To flip it around, if you like, one very basic thing would be on the issues of the rapporteurs. There are a number of rapporteurs who have not been able to go in yet; they have been blocked. There are people who are locked up without trial. Those kind of thing need to be pressed forward. I think it would be unwise for us to say the point at which one just gives up.

    (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Doors are closed to international human rights organisations. My colleague cannot go to Iran. A colleague from other human rights organisations cannot have access to Iran. I go as a human rights representative because I have an Iranian passport and I take lots of risks when going there. We would like the Iranian government to open doors to human rights agents and organisation. There is not an independent human rights organisation in the country; the government would not tolerate it. I had the opportunity to raise a question directly with President Khatami asking why he did not set up any human rights office within his office because all his agenda was about human rights. President Khatami told me that no-one in Iran takes human rights seriously. That was his answer. I responded that human rights is all about the president's agenda and policies. No-one in Iran takes human rights seriously. There is a need to encourage the government to help international and local human rights groups and open the door to them.

  81. You also say that the Iranian government as a whole should be judged upon its human rights record. Do you not think it is better to distinguish between the so called reformist elements and the more conservative elements? In other words, if we condemn everybody, are we not being unhelpful to the reformists?
  82. (Mr Crawshaw) I think one might perhaps again flip that around. If one constantly allows the conservatives to be the alibi of things not happening, then one does not do the cause of reform any good. Again, there have been a number of countries throughout the world where we have seen this pattern, but the encouragement and pressures one could almost say are for their own good in the sense that things need to change. Merely saying that there is a little bit of difficulty with your conservatives and we understand why you do not do any of the things you promised to do, does not help either side. When we said that, talking about the whole government, that is what we meant. When you are there it is enormously important that there is at least one lot who will be speaking the same language and others who are really terribly important to be able to talk to directly which will unblock all the other suff. It does not do the reformer's cause any good simply to go soft on them because of the undoubted difficulties which they face.

    Sir John Stanley

  83. Can you give us the Human Rights Watch perspective on whether progress is being made in Iran for civil rights for women? Can you tell us in your view what are the main areas of lack of civil rights for women at the present time in Iran?
  84. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Every law, penal code and civil code regarding women have not been changed. They have not been tackled and still remain the same. We have women in parliament; we have a woman as deputy the president in charge of the environment, but the ordinary Iranian women face the same problems since the beginning of the revolution. Twenty-four years. Yes, there is amendment to the law that women can seek divorce, but there is still a problem. Divorce is allowed with many conditions. It is the law that they cannot ask for divorce in terms of issues that are very difficult to prove for a woman. The custody of the children; women do not have that. Very recently, before this parliament introduced a bill to increase the age of marriage from nine to fifteen and it was rejected by the Council of Guardians. Then the law went back again and they increased it to thirteen. Those are the kind of changes referred to. Children in Iran can vote. The age of vote is 16. But the age of marriage for a woman is thirteen. A woman cannot be a judge. They can only be a judge in the lower court. A woman cannot be a president simply because they are a woman. We do have women in parliament and they are raising issues like laws of retribution. A woman is qualified as half of a man but they are fighting that. The Iranian government and the parliament is seeking and asking to join the CIDA and it was rejected by the Council of Guardians. Women have problems with a lot of issues with the law in the country, the civil and the penal code.

  85. You have made it clear that you have concerns in the family law area. Are you saying that there is still a lot to be desired as far as basic civil rights for women are concerned in terms of right to take part in the political system, right to vote, age of voting and so on? How does the political system treat women?
  86. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Fortunately women can vote. They had this right and the revolution could not take this law. Women were very, very active. During the eight year war with Iraq the Iranian movement sacrificed many, many things. Iranian women can drive, they can vote and they can go to parliament. But basic things for a woman like custody are issues. There are children's rights as well. Recently the Council of Guardians vetoed a law banning domestic violence against children. Father has a right to do whatever they can to kill a child because it is like a property. The law cannot do anything. The mother cannot even file a lawsuit against the father. These days they have many, many cases about domestic violence against children; the father is entitled to do that because this is based on Islamic principle.

  87. Is the criteria of voting for women identical for men and is the age of voting for women identical to men?
  88. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Sixteen years for girls and boys.

  89. Is the marriage age the same, too?
  90. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Thirteen for girls; fifteen for boys.

    Mr Chidgey

  91. I would like to go back to the point you were making earlier about the persecution of the largest minority, the Baha'is. The point was made that there is a distinction between depravation and persecution in relation to Christians and Jews. I would like to take that point up with you in regard to the Baha'is. Would classify what is happening to the Baha'is as persecution? You talked about not being able to have further education and being denied jobs, but can you give me examples of what you would call persecution of the Baha'is and can you give me any reason as to why they are singled out for this treatment?
  92. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) I am puzzled by that too. I am Muslim Shi'ai and I think - and I am not a religious scholar - that because Baha'i believe that the final prophet came and is presenting to the Baha'i faith. Muslim and Shi'ai believe that the prophet Mohammed is the last one. This is an issue that they have. Again, I have to clarify that I am not a religious scholar to talk about this issue. The Shi'ai believe in the twelve commandments and the prophets and the Baha'i believe that the prophet already came. In principle the Baha'i believe in Islam and the prophet; they believe in their own prophet, the last messiah. There is a lot of discrimination against the Baha'i because it cannot be tolerated that another religion has come and said they have a prophet.

  93. So the persecution is based on a difference in religious dogma?
  94. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) Yes.

  95. Can you give me examples of the type of persecution that has been taking place?
  96. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) If you are Baha'i you cannot publicly talk about it. Since 1989 there have been four Baha'i on death row. They have been commuted - simply because they are Baha'i - to life sentence.

  97. Are there others in prison?
  98. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) At the time of the revolution they had 200 Baha'i executed simply because they were Baha'i. Baha'i children do not have access to college because if they say they are Baha'i - and they are very frank and they always talk about being Baha'i - they cannot go to university. They will be blocked from going because they are Baha'i. Their property is confiscated. There is a law that if someone is a Muslim, all the benefits go to the Muslims. So if a Baha'i family came and somebody claimed that property it goes directly to Muslim and not Baha'i. They are not entitled to any property. Their marriage would not register anywhere.

  99. They are non-citizens, basically?
  100. (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) They are non-citizens when they claim Baha'i.

  101. Can we move on to the European Union issues. You may have heard the questions I asked earlier. I would like to ask you similar questions to see if you agree with the previous answers that I had. It really is a question of progress in Iran on human rights and the political criteria that we discussed earlier. In this area where Iran fails to make satisfactory progress, at what point would you believe that the European Union should draw their red line and suspend negotiations? For example the proposed trade and cooperation agreement. Or do you not think they should?
  102. (Mr Crawshaw) The two things need to be seen that economic progress for Iran itself let alone anyone else wishing to trade with Iran, is dependent on movement forward in human rights. I think it is important that the European Union press forward in those areas and does everything possible for it not to come to a standstill. I am sorry that does sound evasive, and I realise it is slightly. I do not think it is appropriate for us to say, "And this is the point" to signal already that you can only go so far.

  103. Are you therefore saying that should that happen that the negotiations were ended and the human rights dialogue suspended, it would demoralise the reformist parties and the Iranian government?
  104. (Mr Crawshaw) I think that what would demoralise the reformist parties most of all is the feeling that the west or the European Union is putting human rights considerations to one side because of the importance of other things happening. If the idea was to keep a dialogue just for the sake of having a dialogue, I think that would be a very damaging message to send. I think the bigger message is not the exact moment at which one decides that it is inappropriate to continue, but understanding that the issues need to continue to be highlighted. I think the constant danger is that a dialogue can be seen as a useful product in itself. I think it is a very tempting and dangerous problem when the dialogue is seen as being the achievement as opposed to the way to get towards the achievement.

  105. Quite obviously this is about politics and about influence and about change. And obviously the trade and cooperation negotiations are closely linked with the human rights dialogue as far as the EU is concerned. But if we take the analysis one step further, which is basically not to use this as a lever, what other leverage can the EU place on the Iranian government to accelerate reform?
  106. (Mr Crawshaw) It can and should be used as a lever. I think that the number of issues that we have talked about before of allowing in the rapporteurs, a number of important releases, the ratification of various key treaties, all of these are very basic things which can be pushed through the system with relative ease. I think that it ought to be used as a persuasive tool, a lever, saying "You are able to do this; you can do this and if this does not happen then there is no point in having this conversation". The conversation itself may seem valuable to this side - and it is - but it is extraordinarily valuable to the other side. We need to press those concerns.

    Mr Maples

  107. Do you think that the human rights situation in Iran is getting better or worse? Secondly, could you place it in a context, if one had a scale of really bad offenders and not quite so bad offenders? I guess I would rather live in Iran than Iraq, for instance, on that scale. Killing and imprisonment without trial seems to be a slightly more serious breach of human rights than closing down a newspaper. If one puts this in the context of other countries in the region where do you think Iran fits? Is it better or worse than Saudi Arabia or Egypt?
  108. (Mr Crawshaw) I do not like to be seen as avoiding questions. In general terms we avoid league tables, I have to say. The one I would be happy not to dodge is your mention of Iraq where undoubtedly it is difficult to match the horrors of the Iraq regime. Beyond that we would not really get into league tables. To take the other question that goes with it, of things getting better or worse, really above all it is fragile. It is very important that your visit is going to be now at a time when there is everything to play for. One the one hand the reformists are hugely under threat. We have seen that very much in the last couple of years and even the last couple of months. On the other hand we see that society is pushing. It is really with a very great question mark, I think. Fragile would be word.

    (Ms Sharifpour-Hicks) I think the human rights situation is getting worse. In a way human rights is a victim of a power struggle. The more we see the power struggle, human rights violations become more serious. We have many arbitrary detentions. This past week we have a 70 years old political activist who brought a letter to the president, to the speaker of parliament talking about 441 days in solitary confinement and incommunicado talking about how he was tortured, why he was imprisoned. In 2000 he had two heart attacks because he was under torture. He was forced to write confessions. We have never had this before. Human rights is becoming a victim of power struggle in Iran.

    Chairman: . May I thank you for this valuable session. Thank you both very much for coming.

    The Committee suspended from 4.45 pm to 4.55 pm for a division in the House

    DR GARY SAMORE, Director of Studies, International Institute for Strategic Studies, examined.

    Chairman

  109. Dr Samore, we are delighted to have you with us. The areas we would like to cover within your expertise include the weapons of mass destruction evidence and some of the wider regional matters for consideration. I understand you have prepared for the Committee a memorandum on the nuclear program generally and we look forward to receiving that.
  110. (Dr Samore) Yes, that is right.

    Mr Maples

  111. I think I would like to hear you tell us about the status and how far advanced you think Iran's nuclear weapons program is and also our understanding is - I think it is common knowledge - that they are developing longer range missiles and rockets than some of their neighbouring countries have. What is the status? How far advanced do you think it is? How far are they from a deliverable weapon?
  112. (Dr Samore) For years government experts like myself have warned that Iran was tyring to develop nuclear weapons but we could never talk about it very much because of the constraints of classified information. Now the cover has blown off Iran's nuclear weapons program and over the last couple of months there have been a series of public reports about facilities that Iran is building which can directly support their efforts to produce a fissile material for nuclear weapons. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to visit these facilities when you visit there. One is a heavy water production plant near a town called Araq and another is a gas centrifuge enrichment facility, also under construction, near a town called Nantans(?). Both of these facilities are still under construction. I think the exact status is a little murky, but I would say they are still a few years away from being operational. What is interesting about Iran's nuclear weapons program is that unlike other countries that have been party to the NPT and have tried to cheat on their Treaty obligations by building undeclared clandestine facilities - like North Korea and Iraq - the Iranians will try to build these facilities under IAEA safeguards, under international monitoring. They will try to claim them as being part of their civil nuclear program in order to build up the capabilities so that if they wanted to in the future they could make a political decision to leave the Treaty and build nuclear weapons; use those same facilities to produce nuclear weapons. I think they are still a couple of years away from being able to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. That is the key point.

  113. Do they have the bomb technology? Can they weaponise what they have?
  114. (Dr Samore) It is very difficult to say. That is an area that is extremely difficult to get information about. If you look at the state of their conventional military capability and the kind of work they can do with explosives and manufacturing ordinary ordnance, it is fairly well advanced. The basic principles for relatively primitive nuclear weapons is so well known that I cannot believe that they would not be able to do it, given the commitment of resources. Whether they are actually carrying out such a program, I do not know. That is something obviously the regime is not going to acknowledge.

  115. Are you going on to the missiles?
  116. (Dr Samore) Yes. Their missile program is much more advanced, mainly because they have benefited so directly from North Korean assistance, starting in the early 1990's and have the technology and production facilities to manufacture liquid fuel scud type missiles. They are now, I would say, reasonably close to being able to manufacture their own version of an extended range scud missile which the Iranians call the Shahab 3, which the North Koreans call the Nodawn(?). It is the same missile.

  117. What is the range?
  118. (Dr Samore) About thirteen hundred kilometres. It depends a little bit on some technical details about exactly what materials it is manufactured from. It could be thirteen hundred to fifteen hundred kilometres.

  119. Are they working on a longer range one than that?
  120. (Dr Samore) The Iranian regime is very sophisticated in that they do not want - or they are trying to avoid - to antagonise and raise political opposition by their activities. What they claim is that they are satisfied with the Shahab 3 as the longest range military system they need because that reaches all the potential enemies in the Middle East, including Israel. But they say they still want to work on a peaceful space launch vehicle, so they are working on a peaceful longer range system. This is comparable to their strategy in the nuclear weapons area where they claim they have purely peaceful purposes. But if you look at the actual facilities they are building they are completely unjustified by the civilian program and obviously intend to give them a nuclear weapons production program.

  121. So there is a really serious missile and nuclear weapons program going on, is there?
  122. (Dr Samore) Yes, I would say so.

  123. Is the missile designed to carry a nuclear weapon or are there other weapons of mass destruction?
  124. (Dr Samore) Iran is certainly thought to have chemical weapons and biological weapons programs. As to the exact status of those programs I think that is very difficult to be able to ascertain. They are parties to the chemical weapons convention and so in theory they are subject to challenge inspections. If the United States or the United Kingdom were to call for a challenge inspection, that could take place. There are certainly very strong suspicions in western governments that Iran does have some clandestine chemical weapons capability, not only production capability but perhaps even some munitions. That certainly could be delivered by their Shahab 3 missile.

  125. My understanding is that northern Iran is so far from the sea or land based interceptor systems that if missiles were launched from northern Iran it would be very difficult for an anti-ballistic missile system to catch them. Is that right?
  126. (Dr Samore) I think it depends on the capabilities of the system.

  127. Sorry, a land or sea based system. It could be done with spaced based or air borne lasers. Could you take us through the issues that are at stake here?
  128. (Dr Samore) I think that Israel - which is obviously worried about being attacked by missiles - had tried to develop the aero anti-missile defence system which is intended to cover the Shahab 3 type systems. As to the exact technical capability of the system and whether it will actually perform as expected or is advertised, I just do not know the answer.

  129. The Koreans are, I understand, developing a much longer range missile than a fifteen hundred kilometre range. They are looking at an inter-continental range ballistic missile. That technology might, presumably, become relatively easily available to Iran.
  130. (Dr Samore) It is certainly plausible to me that if the North Koreans were paid they would have provided that kind of technology to Iran. I think that Iran's missile program is very much focussed in the first instance on being able to reverse engineering and produce their own version of the Nodawn(?). I think they are pretty far along in having that capability and I would expect within a relatively short period of time - a few years perhaps - they would be able to do that. In the meantime they will continue to buy bits and pieces from the North Koreans and assemble their own Shahab 3 partly from imported parts and partly from parts they can manufacture themselves. I do not think they put a very high emphasis myself on building much longer range systems, inter-continental range systems that could reach Europe or the United States. Certainly they have plans on the drawing board. Given enough time it is the kind of thing they will eventually be able to achieve, but I do not see it as being as an important a program or something that they put as much resources into as the North Koreans have.

  131. They want to be the regional super power, do you think?
  132. (Dr Samore) Or they want to defend themselves against what they see as regional threats.

    Sir John Stanley

  133. We have been informed that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr Kharrazi, has said on the official Iranian state media, "Iran has no plan to produce nuclear weapons and all efforts in this field are intended for peaceful means". Are you saying to the Committee that in your judgment that is a lie?
  134. (Dr Samore) I think it is patently false. If you look at the facilities that Iran is building, the heavy water plant and the gas centrifuge enrichment plant, they cannot be plausibly justified as part of a civil nuclear power program. Iran has one nuclear power plant under construction by Russia at Busher which operates on light water so there is no need for large quantities of heavy water. The plant is being fuelled by fuel from Russia; Russia has agreed to provide a life time supply of fuel for the facility so there is no earthly reason for the Iranians to need to manufacture their own fuel. The technology in question, heavy water and gas centrifuge, does have peaceful applications and around the world you can find examples where that technology is used for peaceful applications. You can find other examples in the world where it is used for military applications. In the particular case of Iran there is no plausible civil need for those capabilities and I think the purpose of it is to build what I would call a nuclear breakout capability under the NPT so that Iran could, under the Treaty, give three months notice if they decided they needed to acquire nuclear weapons. They could leave the Treaty and those facilities could be converted to produce material for nuclear weapons.

  135. So are you saying to the Committee that in your judgment the Iranian government is lying?
  136. (Dr Samore) Yes.

  137. Deliberately.
  138. (Dr Samore) Yes.

  139. In the quotation that I have just read from the Foreign Minister.
  140. (Dr Samore) Yes.

  141. And in doing so, in order to be able to forward its nuclear weapons program to the point at which it can make a rapid breakout and presumably will then follow in the same route as the North Koreans. When it becomes unarguable they will be obliged to make a public confession - as the North Koreans have done - that they have been lying all along and they have a nuclear weapons program.
  142. (Dr Samore) I do not say that the Iranians have made the decision now that they will leave the Treaty once they have these facilities operating. What I am arguing is that they are creating the option for themselves of leaving the Treaty by building these facilities under cover of the NPT and IAEA safeguards. Whether they decide in the future - five years from now - to leave the Treaty or not, I think that will depend upon their calculations about the pros and cons - the risks and benefits - of leaving the Treaty.

  143. Leaving aside whether they leave the Treaty or not, as I understand it - tell me if this is not correct as it is a very, very important point - you are saying to us that the Iranian government have made a decision to procure nuclear weapons, are currently refusing to admit this and, indeed, are denying they have such a program when one is in existence; they have taken a policy decision to have a nuclear weapons program.
  144. (Dr Samore) I think that they have made a policy decision to create a nuclear weapons option for themselves.

  145. In terms of the future - and this must rest on a hypothesis - if there is a war against Iraq, if that war results in the removal of Saddam Hussein, regime change and obviously the removal of weapons of mass destruction that he has, do you judge that there will be significant popular pressure on the Iranian government to go public in order to satisfy their own people, that they are taking all possible defensive measures against the possibility - which may or may not have any reality at all - that the Americans may wish to proceed from Iraq to either North Korea or Iran - or conceivably both - to achieve some degree of regime change in both of those countries?
  146. (Dr Samore) I think that is a very good question and my guess is that the answer - as usual with most things with Iran - is very complex. I think on one hand to the extent that some in Iran argue against the pursuit of the nuclear weapons programs because of the dangers that that might create, including provoking an attack from the United States, they will argue for greater caution, for greater restraint. They will also argue that with the Iraqi threat essentially removed there is less need for Iran to develop an option to acquire nuclear weapons. On the other hand those who debate in Iran the need for Iran to have a nuclear weapons capability will argue that the presence of a very large number of American and British troops next door make it more important than ever that Iran have a nuclear weapon capability in order to deter an attack from the US. How that exactly plays out within the very complicated domestic internal scene in Iran I think is very hard to anticipate. I think at least in the short term the Iranian government is going to be trying very, very hard to avoid doing things that could provoke Washington's hostility. I think they are very nervous about being next on the hit list after Bagdad. They appreciate that their position is extremely vulnerable if only from a military standpoint. I think Iran will be looking for ways to try to appease the United States. At the same time they may also be looking for ways to try to covertly build up their capabilities, but I think the face they will put to the world will be one of trying to reassure, trying to moderate their behaviour in a way that will avoid provoking hostility from Washington.

  147. In determining the course of that internal debate in Iran between, if you like, doves and hawks, do you think that debate will be influenced by the fact that within a matter of months of North Korea opening up to its possession of nuclear weapons the US government has taken a public position, which it has repeated many times now, that there is no military option available to the United States in relation to North Korea.
  148. (Dr Samore) That depends on whether Iran thinks there is a military option with respect to itself. As Iran looks at the world it sees right next door a very good example where a country or a government is very likely to be destroyed because of its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. It looks across the globe at the far east and sees a situation where the United States is powerless to take military action. What the calculation will be in Iran I do not know, but my guess is that they are more likely to see themselves as vulnerable to a military attack - as in the case of Iraq - than invulnerable as in the case of North Korea. The Iranians are still years away from having nuclear weapons so the risk for them is that if they try to produce nuclear weapons they run the risk of being caught; they run the risk of provoking the United States and they are still so far away from having it that they may calculated that it is just too dangerous to pursue.

    MrChidgey

  149. Dr Samore, you may recall on a previous time you were before us we talked about this very issue of North Korea and Iraq. I am sure it was you that told us that if Iraq had had nuclear weapons there would be no Gulf War and the fact that Saddam Hussein had recognised his mistake in attacking Kuwait because he did not wait until he had nuclear weapons. My point is, is there not a case to be made that from Iran's perspective it is a race against time to acquire a deterrent to protect itself from invasion by the world's super power? How strong does that play in the debates that take place in Tehran?
  150. (Dr Samore) If somehow Tehran could acquire a nuclear weapon tomorrow then they would do so. They have every motivation in the world to have a nuclear weapon. Their problem is that they cannot; they are years away and the pursuit of the capability subjects them to political pressure or even military attack. They have to calculate, is it worth the risk?

  151. No case of a willing seller from North Korea and a willing buyer in Iran?
  152. (Dr Samore) Not that we know of yet. I think that is a reasonable concern, but so far that person has not appeared on the doorstep.

    Chairman

  153. Russia has a particular role here. Russia is exporting nuclear technology to Iran, yet there has been a very considerable warming of Russian-US relations, strategic nuclear missiles and so on. To what extent you think the US has been able to moderate the policy of Russia in respect of such matters?
  154. (Dr Samore) This was one of the most frustrating issues that I worked on when I was in the White House because we badgered the Russians for years - from President Clinton on down - about their very poor control over missile and nuclear technology flowing to Iran. We threatened sanctions and we offered enticements and we used political pressure; we used just about every means we had available. I think we made some progress. Certainly on paper the Russians have a very impressive export control system, the problem is it is only on paper and when it comes to actual implementation it often proves to be quite inadequate. But I think there has been some progress over the many years we have worked on this issue and I think the Bush administration has a tremendous opportunity - given the better overall political relations between Washington and Moscow - to make more progress. I think perhaps the issue has not received as much attention as I would like because the administration, in its relations with Russia, has been focussing on other matters, including Iraq. I know that work has been going on to try to persuade the Russians to limit their nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran. I think it is very important that that continue. I suspect that much of the basic equipment and material for the two plants I mentioned in Iran is probably of Russian origin.

    Sir Patrick Cormack

  155. You have been very insistent on the fact that there is a desire to have this nuclear capability and also on the fact that it is some years away. You touched on the chemical, the biological, but did not amplify. I want to ask you about terrorism. Could you just say what is the extent, in your view, of the biological and chemical arsenal at their disposal, and is it something that could be used immediately?
  156. (Dr Samore) I am a little more constrained unfortunately because the cover has not been blown off the chemical and biological weapons program yet the way it has on the nuclear program. I would say that it is certainly a reasonable conclusion that the chemical and the biological weapons programs are much more advanced than the nuclear weapons program. We know that Iran manufactured and used chemical weapons against Iraq in the 1980/1988 wars, so we know they have some capability. I would say that it is a reasonable assumption that they do have some existing chemical and biological capability that could be used now.

  157. Do you have any suspicion that any of this material has been supplied to terrorists?
  158. (Dr Samore) No.

  159. That leads me on to the terrorism point. Many people have alleged -with very convincing anecdotal evidence - that Iran has given assistance to Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic-Jehad. How do you see this?
  160. (Dr Samore) It is certainly true that they have a long relationship with Hezbollah. In part, of course, that is based on a common religious fraternity and in part it is based on a desire to try to do what they can against Israel. I found in talking to experts on Iran one of the most difficult issues is policy towards Israel because that is one of the issues that divides the moderates and the hard-liners. For the hard-liners it is a religious duty to try to destroy Israel and supporting Hezbollah is part of that. The moderates see support for Hezbollah as one of the important obstacles in trying to fix and improve relations with the west. Again, it is another one of these issues that divides the Iranian government. Where you have different pieces of the government running off pursuing their own policies - for example the Karine A episode, which I am sure you are familiar with - it is pretty clear that some elements in the Iranian government were very heavily engaged in selling a lot of arms to the Palestinian authority. Other parts of the Iranian government I think knew nothing about it and were quite unhappy about it.

  161. Do you think there are any significant elements of the Iranian government who would be content to see a two state solution of both Israel and Palestine properly recognised?
  162. (Dr Samore) I think that there are elements of the Iranian government that would be willing to support any agreement the Palestinians were willing to support.

  163. Looking at terrorism from the other point of view, they often claim that they are victims of terrorism. I would like to know what you think western countries should be doing, if anything, to curb activities, the MKO and so on. We have had evidence this afternoon - which I do not think you heard - saying that the British government ought to proscribe certain organisations. How do you see this?
  164. (Dr Samore) It is a very good question, but I just do not think I am qualified to answer because I am not exactly sure about what the activities are of the MKO. My impression from talking to people is that to the extent there are opportunities in the wake of a war against Iraq, pressure in Tehran to limit or cut off support for Hezbollah is probably one of the more achievable near-term objectives. The feeling is that the Iranians are more willing to sacrifice their links to Hezbollah than they would be willing to sacrifice their nuclear program or take other steps that would be seen as more directly threatening their security. To the extent that we are trying to figure out exactly how to use our leverage in the aftermath of a war, it strikes me that Hezbollah is probably an area where one might be successful in the short-term.

  165. And the proscribing of certain organisations here in Britain and the west might assist to that end?
  166. (Dr Samore) I certainly know that the Iranians complain about the activities of the MKO, yes. I think we are looking for face-saving package and that presumably could be part of it.

    Mr Pope

  167. It seems that we are getting a clear picture about Iran. This is a country which is repressing many of its own citizens, it is exporting terrorism, partly financing Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic-Jehad . It is developing weapons of mass destruction. So this is no Sweden. But do you think Bush was right in the axis of evil to lump it in with North Korea and Iraq. It seemed to me that whilst not a great friend of the west it is of a different kind of a state to the other two and it was probably a strategic error on Bush's part to put Iran in with Iraq and North Korea. What do you think?
  168. (Dr Samore) From an analytical stand point it is a very different type of problem. In the case of North Korea and Iraq you are dealing with fundamentally dictatorial states, one man rule. In the case of Iran it is much more complicated and that makes it both better and worse I think in some respects. It is better in the sense that one can hope to strengthen the moderate elements and produce an improvement in behaviour that way. It is worse in the sense that I find it very, very difficult to figure out how any action one takes will actually reverberate within the endless and very complicated and murky warfare that goes on in Tehran. Some people who are not particular fans of President Bush think that including Iran in the axis of evil was actually a very good thing because it strengthened the hands of the moderates who are able to say to other elements, "Your behaviour is putting us on a very dangerous list. The last thing we want to do is antagonise the United States." I think how our behaviour affects what is going on in Iran is very, very difficult to figure out. We may do things that actually have a beneficial effect even if, at first blush, they do not look too smart.

  169. It seems to me that we must be presenting a rather confusing picture to Iranians, that a few years ago under Clinton American policy was clearly to have an engagement; Secretary of State Albright talked about normalising relations. We now have the current EU policy which is about a constrictive dialogue which has been unkindly called, "Speak softly and carry a big carrot". We are sending those messages out that we want constructive dialogue; at the same time President Bush is sending a completely different message. If I was a reformer in Iran I would be very confused about the west's attitude. Our aim in the EU is to encourage reform and democracy. I am sure that must be President Bush's aim as well. They must be getting some very conflicting messages. Who do you think is getting this right? Is it the EU or is it Bush?
  170. (Dr Samore) There is confusion on both sides. We are very confused about what their politics are as well. My sense is that the big fear of the reformers now is that the United States will make a deal with the hard-liners. What they are worried about is that the US will deal with those countries who actually are responsible for providing support to Hezbollah and running the various weapons of mass destruction programs. I think the reformers are nervous that they will end up being basically abandoned by the US in the interests of achieving more operational objectives: end of terrorism, limits on weapons of mass destruction. I do not think there is an easy answer as to who has it right. It is so difficult to figure out how to influence Iran's behaviour. But I do think it is important, to the extent that it is possible, that Europe and the United States coordinate their positions. It seems to me that that requires us to decide what our objectives are and what incentives and disincentives we are prepared to use in order to achieve those objectives. There may very well be disagreement about what the relative merits of the different objectives are. I personally would put human rights much lower on my list of things I would like to try. I would put an end to support for terrorism and an end to a nuclear weapons program at a much higher level. Other people obviously have different priorities. But I do think it is important. This is one of those areas where I think US-European coordination really matters because I think the Europeans have a much stronger role to play in terms of influencing Iranian perceptions and behaviour than Europe does in the case of North Korea.

    Mr Hamilton

  171. I am glad you pointed out so many of the confusions and contradictions. Clearly Ayatollah Khomeini gained power on the back of fierce resentment and patriotic fervour on behalf of Iranians who resented American interference. The policy of the previous shah was reversed. Likewise, the same with Israel. I want to just concentrate on Israel in a second. Two thirds of the population of Iran - if I am not mistaken - are under 25 and therefore do not really remember the 1979 revolution. It seems there is more pro-American and pro-western sentiment in Iran than any other Middle Eastern country, possibly because America and the west have not really done very much in Iran or interfered in the way they have in other Middle Eastern countries. Leaving that aside, it is surely our duty here in Europe - and in the United States - to encourage those elements that want to push the Islamic element and the theocratic part of the republic back into a box and establish a secular democracy. Surely it is our duty, rather than calling Iran part of the axis of evil - both the American government and Great Britain and the rest of Europe - to encourage that overwhelming element within Iran that wants to see secular democracy established and have the kind of freedom of speech that we enjoy. What would your comments be on that?
  172. (Dr Samore) I certainly agree with you about the objective. The problem is how do you achieve that. Nobody has been able to come up with a successful formula for encouraging the development of secular democratic trends. The main impression that I had from my years in the White House in the Clinton administration is that by the end of the administration people had very much decided that the reformers were feckless, powerless and pretty much unable to deliver anything. The efforts by the Clinton administration to engage Iran, to encourage those elements - the moderate secular elements - utterly failed because there was nobody at the other end who could deliver a deal.

  173. In a fiercely proud nation like Iran surely you create huge bitterness by saying that they are just part of the axis of evil and lumping them all together.
  174. (Dr Samore) My impression is that the result of that was very complicated. It certainly did create resentment; it certainly did strengthen some elements who argued that they had to defend themselves against the American Satan, but I think there were others who argued that they have to be careful about the way they behave because they are behaving in a way that could arouse strong American opposition and that could be damaging to their interests. I agree with you that a policy toward Iran has to be sophisticated; it has to have incentives and disincentives. But I do not think that you want to have a policy that is all carrot and no stick. It has to be both big carrot and big stick. That is what I am trying to say.

  175. My colleague, Greg Pope, mentioned support for terrorism - Hezbollah and the other organisations - and clearly one of the platforms of the current administration government in Iran is to be fiercely anti-Israel. Basically they say that Israel has no right to exist. Yet we understand - if we can believe some of the information - that Iran has bought weapons - not weapons of mass destruction but other weapons - from Israel. What chance do you think there is in the near future that Iran's official policy will change? I know you have partly answered this with Sir Patrick's question, but, if the Palestinians are willing to embrace a two state solution which the Saudi Arabians have proposed and certain numbers of Israelis think it is a good idea, what chance is there that Iran will do that? If they do that, will the United States then be satisfied that the attitude has changed sufficiently towards Israel in order to establish a closer relationship?
  176. (Dr Samore) That is a very good question and I think it is very hard to answer. I think that there is such an ideological cleavage in Iran over this whole question of Israel that it becomes part of the broader battle between different elements. I would not expect to see that kind of change in declaratory policy as the first order of business. I think what is more likely is that you might see a willingness by Iran to cut back on providing military assistance to Hezbollah. Something that is not public, something the regime could deny if they were questioned, but I think to expect one to make a change in public declaratory policy is probably really more than the traffic will bear at this point because it is so closely tied to this broader struggle among different factions over the future of the whole government.

    Chairman

  177. Between 1980 and 1988 these two regional heavyweights, Iran and Iraq, fought themselves to a standstill and rather like the bucket and the well principle when one power is high the other is low. In a post-Saddam Hussein position with the regime change in Iraq, clearly the successor government is likely to be more constrained in its regional position, hence Iran is likely to have an enhanced power position regionally. Is that a good or a bad thing? What are the implications?
  178. (Dr Samore) Actually most people in Iran I think - at least some of them - are worried that the post-Saddam Iraq will be much more powerful. Saddam, as much as they did not like him, at least he was constrained by sanctions inspections and so forth. The new Iraq may be buying American and British tanks and planes as part of it reconstruction program. There are quite a few people in Iran who are worried that it will end up being a much more dangerous adversary than Saddam was after the Gulf War.

    Mr Maples

  179. But without weapons of mass destruction?

(Dr Samore) Yes, without weapons of mass destruction.

Chairman: As always you have been extremely stimulating and helpful. Thank you very much. The dialogue will continue.