Lord Carlile of Berriew, a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF), was opposed to Jack Straw's recent trip to Iran and favours economic sanctions instead

By Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC

In some parts of the Iranian expatriate community former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw MP is referred to as Ayatollah Straw. He is criticised for what they regard as whitewashing the crimes of the Iranian regime.

 

I know Mr Straw to be a politician who has over decades defended human rights. He was instrumental in making the European Convention on Human Rights an inherent part of UK Law, a great monument of the Blair Government of which he was part. Later, he was a distinguished Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, devoted to the integrity of the Rule of Law.

He is also a political survivor, a pragmatist and political weltmeister who has an understanding of the diplomatic traps and snares bedevilling the modern world.

Recently it has been puzzling to see him urging the purpose of investment and cooperation with Iran with barely a mention of the human rights desert that Iran remains.

On his recent return from a visit to Iran he spoke of the wonderful welcome he received there and the atmosphere of change. It is not the welcome he would receive from everyday Iranians who live under the current regime, especially those who favour a modern democracy not dominated by clerics.

Asked if he spoke to dissidents Jack Straw said "We didn't want to, to be honest. It wasn't on the agenda. We were not in the business of making gestures. We were in the business of seeking to establish trust and good relations with people who want trust and good relations with us."

This was very frank of him. Yet whilst he was there dissidents continued to be detained, tortured and executed for their beliefs.

Mr Straw wrote in the Independent that sanctions meant cancer patients were unable to get their required medicine. Would he have us believe that those in favour of sanctions are to blame for the regime spending the huge sums it receives from its natural resources on financing a nuclear program and providing financial support to terrorist organisations rather than medicine for its people?

There is ample evidence that Iran sponsors terror in other countries; that respect for women's rights is lower than in almost any other country; that bodies of opponents are hanged and left to swing from cranes jibs for no better reason than wanting democracy; and that the recent approach towards nuclear weapons negotiation may really be no more than a bid for time.

To his great credit, Mr Straw and his Party supported the sanctions against South Africa that led eventually to the release of Nelson Mandela and majority rule in South Africa. Surely it is an example of double standards to be perceived to be less critical of the current Government of Iran? I cannot believe that Mr Straw means to create that perception, but it is one I have heard levelled against him.

To talk of “constructive engagement” is to airbrush history. Mr Straw claims great successes during his time as Foreign Minister in his dealings with the then supposed moderate Khatami. Many of us accepted that claim at the time. However, we now know that during that period Iran had been developing a secret nuclear program, which was only discovered following its disclosure by the Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Put simply, Jack Straw wants the West to extend a hand of friendship to Iran. He wants us to remove sanctions and try to develop friendly relations with that regime. That policy is a step too far. Much more must be done by Iran, and quickly, to justify Mr Straw's understandable aspiration. At present we appear to give to Iran what it wishes, and receive in return only what that regime is willing to offer.

The regime is a major international bully, and should be treated as such.

Furthermore, it is the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Squeezing Tehran’s finances will ensure that we can finally deal Iran’s nuclear program enough of a blow for it to be incapable of producing nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. Provide the regime with more time to progress the program free of those sanctions and it will be only a matter of time before those weapons are developed.

This article first appeared in PoliticsHome