In a report published today on the UK’s relationship with Iran, the Foreign Affairs Committee says that President Rouhani of Iran should, for now, be trusted as someone who is genuinely committed to a sustainable deal with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) on Iran’s nuclear programme. His clear electoral mandate and his background as a regime insider give him authority and credibility at the highest levels within Iran. But he is a pragmatist who hopes to get sanctions lifted, and not necessarily a reformist, and he should be judged by his actions and not by his words.
The Committee endorses the UK’s participation in negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme, and it recognises that there is probably no prospect of a lasting deal which does not allow Iran to enrich uranium. But Iran’s capacity to enrich should be limited, so that it would need at least six months if it were to decide to push ahead and produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb: enough time for others to detect what was happening and to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.
The Committee welcomes the FCO’s recent decision to reopen the Tehran Embassy. It accepts that the FCO had no choice in deciding to close it in November 2011, after it had been stormed by an Iranian mob. But the lack of direct UK diplomatic representation in Iran has hindered the UK’s ability to shape events, gather information and build the personal contacts which are essential to constructive diplomatic relations. The Committee heard that the “prolonged period of silence” had made the UK less visible in the country and that other countries were now looked at as better choice partners in international relations.
Sir Richard Ottaway, Chairman of the Committee, said today:
"Ideally we would have a mature and constructive relationship with Iran: both sides could benefit politically, strategically, commercially and culturally. But until we can overcome years of a lack of trust between the two sides, that seems a remote prospect, and we will need to see at least partial resolution of our concerns about Iran’s role in regional security and stability.
The Joint Plan of Action is our best hope for reaching a settlement which assuages fears about the scope and intention of the Iranian nuclear programme. If we are going to have confidence in Iran’s intentions, the IAEA should have a right to make unannounced and intrusive inspections of all Iranian nuclear facilities, products, designs and records. And we need Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium to be pegged to a point where we can control any attempt to “break out” and manufacture a nuclear weapon.
The Foreign Secretary’s recent decision to re-open our Embassy in Tehran was the right one. Events in November 2011 forced its closure; but that meant yet another interruption to our ability to understand the Iranian outlook at first hand, and we have become less visible in the country. If the UK is going to have influence or profile in Iran, we need those diplomatic links to be restored, and the recent political change in Iran gives us an opportunity to start to rebuild the trust on which a constructive relationship depends."