CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE – IRAN – 12 December 2006

Lynne Jones: My right hon. Friend mentioned that other countries were stirring up the insurgency. I do not know which countries he had in mind, but at a meeting this morning, Mr. al-Hakim said, if I understood him correctly, that the Iranian Government were helping the Iraqi Government in chasing the terrorists. He also said that the terrorists had better equipment than the Iraqi army, implying that something ought to be done to equip that army better. Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on those views?

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I shall see Abdul Aziz al-Hakim later today, and no doubt I shall have the opportunity to explore those issues with him. I shall do that, rather than comment on an edited version of what he may have said, although I accept that my hon. Friend reports him accurately. I do not agree with his view that Iran is making a positive contribution in Iraq. I believe that Iran poses a strategic threat to the whole region, that it is interfering in the internal affairs of a number of countries in the region, including Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, and that it is doing so in a way that is destructive and dangerous. That is a view, I have to say, that is shared by many of the moderate countries of the region.

Dr Julian Lewis: Given the Minister's extremely robust response to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), and given that Iran has threatened to wipe another country from the face of the earth, will the Government rule out any deal with Iran that, in return for Iran helping to stop the violence in Iraq, would involve some sort of acceptance of the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme?

Mr Browne: One of the observations or conclusions of the Iraq Study Group with which I agree is that those two issues are quite separate, and should not be traded, as the hon. Gentleman accepted – indeed, he suggested that that should be ruled out. Hon. Members will accept, however, that whatever our view of Iran, it will not go away. Iran and Iraq will be neighbours for ever, as they are locked together by geography and history, and that must be accommodated. At the end of the day, the ability of a sovereign Iraqi Government to reach an agreement with Iran will mean that Iran will not interfere and can play a positive role in the future of Iraq. That will ensure that Iran does what it needs to do in the region, and that is what we will focus on.