Testimony of Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett (Excerpts)

March 20, 2007

Weapon Program: 

  • Military

. . .

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): What recent assessment [Foreign Secretary Beckett] has made of levels of Iranian support for terrorism.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): We have long-standing concerns about Iran's support for terrorism. We assess that Iran continues to fund and arm extremist groups engaged in violence in Iraq. It remains a leading supplier of military and financial assistance to Lebanese Hezbollah, and it funds and retains close links to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

Mr. Burrowes: Does the Secretary of State believe that the United Nations Security Council's proposed sanctions against Iran will put adequate pressure on Iran not to acquire nuclear weapons and not to support terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas with funding and weapons? Is there any real prospect for peace in the middle east if Iran's nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism are not thwarted?

Margaret Beckett: As I have said to the House before, it is a deliberate decision by the international community to seek sanctions against the Government of Iran, but to do so in a way that is incremental, reversible and deliberately designed to encourage Iran into negotiation rather than continued defiance. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I thought that the sanctions would be adequate. If he is asking whetherI think that this is all that is required to be done,the answer is no. That is deliberately not the way in which the international community is approaching this matter. If, as we hope, a resolution on the issue carries later this week, that will represent a further indication to the Government of Iran that, yes, there is a choice open to them, but that to choose to remain as they are will not be cost free.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What action is being taken to prevent Iranian support for terrorism through re-arming Hezbollah in Lebanon in contravention of the UN resolutions and in the face of the presence of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon-UNIFIL-which seems powerless to do anything about it? Is she concerned that there could be a parallel with what happened during the years between Israel leaving Lebanon and the outbreak of the war, which was damaging for all sides?

Margaret Beckett: I think that the whole House will share my hon. Friend's concern about the consequences of re-arming Hezbollah in the way that she has described. We are aware of the Israeli Government's concern that some re-arming is taking place. We also believe that UNIFIL is acting as something of an obstacle. My hon. Friend will know that other steps are being taken to increase supervision at the border, to try to impede the continued transfer of arms. That is also a concern of the United Nations, whose Secretary-General continues to express anxiety about the matter. I can assure my hon. Friend that it is not our understanding that there is still a free flow of arms, as was the case in the past, but we share her concern about any continued flow of arms to re-supply Hezbollah. We continue to keep up pressure on the Government of Iran and on those who are active in Lebanon to resist and obstruct any such activity.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): The Government have refused to accept the judgment or the spirit of the European Court of First Instance to annul the proscription of the main opposition partyin Iran, the People's Mujaheddin of Iran-the PMOI. Will the Secretary of State, whose Government have so shamefully refused to enact the judgment of a legally constituted court, tell us what impact she expects this to have on the world at large?

Margaret Beckett: We continue to take the view that the course of action that we are pursuing is correct, and we always regret it when our view is not shared by others. Of course, we engage in dialogue and take heed when views of the kind that the hon. Gentleman describes are expressed, but we do not intend to change course at present.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Clearly, the Iranian Government have a choice: to work with the international community or to defy it. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, if they continue to defy international opinion, she will work to ensure thatthey become increasingly isolated, politically and economically?

Margaret Beckett: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. There are indications that the Government and other major players in Iran are becoming concerned that their course of action continues to be resisted by the international community-in a way, it appears, they had not expected. I assure my hon. Friend that we will search for opportunities to keep up the pressure, not least because the Government of Iran have consistently claimed that they were carrying out enrichment and reprocessing in order to have access to modern civil nuclear power. Access to such power is available to them by peaceful means through the international community, in a way that would be acceptable and, indeed, almost unprecedented. We shall continue to press Iran to pursue that course.

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Following the tentative steps towards substantive discussions between the United States, Iraq, Iran and middle east neighbours, what additional encouragement can the UK Government give the United States to engage further in discussions with Iran?

Margaret Beckett: I believe that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the neighbours conference that took place in latter days. That is an ongoing event, but the Government of Iraq, who hosted the conference, also involved the G8, the P5 and others on this occasion. Several international players, including the United Kingdom, were therefore present at an official level. I am told by those who attended the conference that it was constructive and useful, and further discussions are taking place about whether a similar event might take place at ministerial level. I do not anticipate that happening in the near future, but if it appears that such an event might be scheduled and that it might help to take forward international support for peaceful development in Iraq, we will certainly play our part.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I take the Foreign Secretary back to her reply to the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley)? She said that the Government continue to take the view that the PMOI should be proscribed, but she has not told the House why, and what more it should do to satisfy the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that it has a clean bill of health and that it has given up military action. What more can it do, and why does she continue to ignore the views of the European Court and insist that that organisation stays on the list? That flies in the face of the views of distinguished parliamentarians, including our former colleague Lord Archer of Sandwell and former Conservative Home Secretary David Waddington. The view-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Secretary of State might manage a reply.

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend quotes a number of people, not least our former colleague Lord Archer, for whom I have great personal respect. I am afraid, however, that we continue to judge that there is insufficient evidence to show that that body has turned away from the path of terrorism and violence. Until we judge that the evidence demonstrates that much more fully, it would not be right or responsible to lift the proscription.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Will the Government support the idea of the forthcoming UN resolution adding prominent members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps to the list of
those targeted by financial sanctions, given its role in the funding and carrying out of violence in Iraq and Lebanon? Do not we need a sharp increase in the peaceful pressure on Iran in the form of financial sanctions by European Union countries, in addition to UN sanctions, so that the maximum peaceful pressure is applied before it is too late?

Margaret Beckett: We do consider how such sanctions could be extended, but we have consistently taken the view, which the right hon. Gentleman might share, that part of the key goal of the E3 plus 3 should be to maintain unity among ourselves. We would therefore rather have a resolution that does not go quite as far as some would want than one on whichwe are divided. I assure him that we maintain the maximum amount of pressure to make our stance as strong as possible, but we are also mindful of the wish to maintain agreement.

On the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the possibility of further action by the EU, he might be aware that we urged EU colleagues at the recent General Affairs Council to exploit to the full the opportunities presented by the UN list, and to consider financial measures that the EU can take outside the UN sanctions regime.

. . .