Text of a speech given in the House of Lords on 10/12/02
British Policy towards Iran
“British Foreign Policy Is Incoherent, Contradictory, and Expedient.”
Some human rights groups have made the error of criticising the British Government for using the appalling human rights of Iraq as grounds for concerted international action against Saddam Hussein. Their criticism is the wrong one.
Cruelty and inhumanity manifest themselves with periodic predictability and it is the duty of democratic nations to turn the regimes who are responsible into pariah states.
Instead of complaining that their dossiers have been cited as a causus beli against Iraq, they should be pressing the British Government on when they now intend to publish similar documentary evidence against regimes such as North Korea, Burma and Iran.
They should be asking why human rights abuses can constitute grounds for military action in Iraq, while human rights abuses in Iran are merely dismissed as a unfortunate aberration which should not get in the way of Britain undertaking “business as usual.”
They should be asking the question why it is possible for our American allies to designate a country like Iran as part of an “axis of evil” while the British Foreign Secretary has conferred upon the regime a wholly undeserved respectability.
How can it be business as usual with a regime who have already executed more than 400 people this year? How can it be business as usual with a regime that between March and August stoned 10 people to death? How can it be business as usual with a regime that incarcerates political dissidents; that has developed
Shahab missiles that can reach all Middle East capitals and many in southern Europe; that is developing weapons of mass destruction; and that has been responsible for the death of an estimated 120,000 political prisoners?
Today I want to concentrate on one issue: Her Majesty’s Government’s attitude towards the Iranian regime and its attitude towards the opposition to that regime.
As I do so, I am thinking of this country’s own experience in combating Nazi Germany; of what it learnt about the folly of appeasement and collaboration; I am thinking of family members of mine who gave their lives fighting that regime; and I am thinking of the brave resistance in countries like France and Yugoslavia who ultimately triumphed.
Jack Straw described our current policy towards Iran as “constructive dialogue”. We are told that soon we will be engaged in a human rights dialogue with Tehran and also a dialogue on political and trade relations.
Simultaneously, the Home Secretary has listed the Mojahedin as a proscribed organisation. Whatever opinion one has about the Mojahedin, it is indisputable that they are the most active opposition inside and outside of Iran. It is also indisputable that the Iranian regime considers them as its number one enemy and a threat to its survival.
So, in reality, setting aside diplomatic niceties, in this battle between the Iranian regime and its opposition, Her Majesty’s Government has taken the side of the regime.
Although I am sure that government spin doctors would not put it in this way, and would doubtless offer other justifications, whether we like it or not, this is the reality. Therefore the real question is whether this is the right policy for our country. It is worth remembering that in this part of the world we have been wrong before.
We seriously miscalculated during the time of the Shah. We did not anticipate change until it was too late. Our then government continued its support for the Shah until the very last days that the Shah was in power. We ignored the Iranian people and their genuine desires for change and we lost. And so did they. So, let us be loud and clear to our government not to repeat the same mistake.
The British government’s policy has been based on a myth: on a non-existent notion that thereis a genuine moderate faction within the regime that could bring change. This is wishful thinking. It is also incredibly naïve to go on with this mesmorising self delusion after five years of Khatami’s tenure. The recent anti-government demonstrations by students and by the people of Iran, once again illustrated that people’s demands go far beyond what any faction within the regime could offer.
Despite the regime’s crackdown intimidation and threats, tens of thousands of students risked their lives at recent rallies to chant such slogans as “down with dictatorship” and “Khatami resign.” This demonstrates that they have no illusions about Khatami and that they seek the overthrow of the regime in its entirety.
According to the Reuters one student leader said, “we have never looked at Khatami as a leader of the reform movement. He played the role of a catalyst to prevent the fall of the regime. We are thinking beyond Khatami.” The question for the British Government is, are they? Or are their views based upon short term considerations? Our government should listen to the message from Iran and not what they are told at private diplomatic meetings by those who are personally responsible for execution, torture and terrorism and represent a murderous regime.
The policy of dialogue, under any pretext, has failed. It has only emboldened the regime and the more we proceed with this policy the more they will believe that they can act with utter impunity. According to the Iranian regime’s official media, – not the opposition – since the beginning of this year 407 people have been executed. Just the sort of press hand out that chillingly reveals the nature of this regime: one founded in visceral brutality.
This figure, of course does not include the secret executions. In addition inhumane punishments such as amputation of arms and limbs, gouging out eyes and public flogging have become rampant, unprecedented even by the standards of the Iranian regime. A 21-year-old women, was sentenced to eye gouging in public “to set an example for the public” in southern Iran on July 24. An 18-year-old boy was hanged in public in Mashad on June 18. A 17-year-old teenager was sentenced to death by Tehran’s juvenile court on August 18. In late September, two persons were stoned to death after being imprisoned for 15 years.
The policy of dialogue has neither deterred Tehran from supporting terrorism nor its ambitious desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In August the Associated Press reported on new secret nuclear projects initiated by Tehran. More recently the US media reported that Administration Officials and nuclear proliferation specialists say Iran is trying covertly to produce weapons-grade uranium or plutonium.
When I was recently in the U.S. I heard that what worries U.S. officials and experts most is Iran’s interest in technology for the production of nuclear reactor fuel and the handling of spent fuel. This “fuel cycle” can include reprocessing of the spent fuel to extract weapons-grade plutonium. Sources from within Iran have indicated that two secret nuclear sites are under construction. One, about 25 miles south east of the city of Kashan, is to be used for nuclear fuel production. The site includes two large halls 25 feet underground. A facility meant to produce heavy water is being located alongside a river near the central Iranian city of Arak. John Wolf, assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation said the State Department’s information is consistent with these disclosures. He says “There are two clandestine sites, including one underground.”
So much for our collaboration and business as usual with the regime.
Of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojaheidn Organization of Iran is the largest and most active opposition movement in Iran. The PMOI espouses a democratic, modern and tolerant interpretation of Islam. Therefore it has a unique role in combating Islamic fundamentalism.
The greatest conundrum facing the west in its dealings with the Islamic world is how can we counter Islamic fundamentalism, without offending the religion of Islam and Muslims? The answer is to be found in organisations like the Iranian resistance.
Yet, because the British Government has based its policy on improving relations with the present theocratic regime, it has conceded that regime’s demand to label the Mojahedin as terrorists and has proscribed them. This is wrong, both from an ethical and political point of view.
How can it ever be ethical to condemn the victims in order to appease the oppressor?
When apologists for the regime – from bishops to secretaries of state – describe the present regime as moderates, let us not forget that these are the former hangmen. Khatami, is acknowledged to have been a staunch supporter of the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988. He was Khomeini’s minister of information, or propaganda, for almost a decade.
I have never been convinced by the government’s decision to proscribe the Mojahedin. After all, the Home Secretary has acknowledged that PMOI has not been engaged in any attack against UK or western interests over the past two decades and has no plan to do so. Moreover, the Mojahedin military conduct falls perfectly within the international laws governing the war of liberation. I can see little difference between them and with, for instance, Nelson Mandela’s ANC.
The PMOI has been recognized as a legitimate resistance movement not only by the majority of The UK House of Commons and more than 120 Peers, but also by the majority of the US Congress and parliaments in several European countries. But above all, by such a policy, the UK government is once again distancing itself from the Iranian people.
Iran is on the brink of change. To continue with this wrong policy, is tantamount to be once again on the losing side of change in Iran. If we remember the struggles of 1939 – 1945 we would see that our commitment should be to millions of Iranians who are expressing their legitimate resistance. Such a bold initiative would represent a serious guarantee for an amicable relationship between the two nations once the mullahs are overthrown.
Our present policy is incoherent, contradictory and expedient. It does us no credit and represents craven posturing to a regime that is among the world’s worst pariah states.