"It is a sect, not a political party, and has virtually no support in Iran. It is a diversion from the real issues,"
(Phyllis Starkey, Chair of the all-party Iran parliamentary group)
London, October 12, 2005 – Chair of the all-party Iran parliamentary group, Phyllis Starkey, has cautioned the British government in its behavior towards Tehran, including in making allegations about any interference in Iraq.
"As the Iranians have historical reasons for not regarding all that we and the US do as being totally above board or without some ulterior motive, that is why we should be careful," said Starkey, who also chairs Committee on the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office.
"We need to be aware of how what we and the US say is perceived not only by the Iranian Government but by the public at large," she warned during a debate on UK-Iran relations in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
The debate, sponsored by Conservative MP David Amess, a self- confessed supporter of the front group for that Mojahedin-e Khalq terrorist group, come as the UK orchestrated fresh allegations about Iran’s involvement in Iraq.
"If the British Government have clear information about Iranian involvement in the bombings in southern Iraq, it needs to be brought forward. Otherwise, we must be careful to stick to what we know," said Starkey, who is an MP for the ruling Labor Party.
"We need to stick to the facts, and not to indulge in hyperbole which will only further alienate members of the Iranian Government rather than holding them to account and making sure that they move in the direction in which we would wish them to move," she warned.
In the debate, Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells insisted that there was "no question that there has been at least Revolutionary Guard involvement" in southern Iraq and that there was "no doubt" bomb-making technology came from Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The chair of the Iran group totally disassociated herself from Amess and his Conservative colleague Brian Binley, whom he ccompanied on a paid trip to the UN General Assembly last month to rally support for the so-called National Council of Resistance.
"It is a sect, not a political party, and has virtually no support in Iran. It is a diversion from the real issues," she said and repeated that the UK Government should be "clear, consistent and transparent" in engaging in dialogue with Iran and its people.
With regard to the nuclear issue, Starkey commended the role that the UK Government has played, together with its EU partners, in trying to reach a negotiated resolution.
"The nuclear issue is important, not only in relation to Iran but in the context of controlling nuclear proliferation in general and in asserting the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency," she cautioned.
But the Labor MP also voiced fears that "we are at a tipping point, from which we could easily slide into the sort of
"There is a deliberate diplomatic ambiguity about Israel’s nuclear potential, but the other countries in the region know about it and feel that it is not consistent for us to focus only on their potential for nuclear weapons," she said.
"Everyone in the region knows that Israel already has a nuclear capability. It is rather like the elephant in the corner: no one speaks of it," Starkey said.
She said that although the UK has been pursuing the right line, "we must also be extremely careful not to use language that allows our stance to be projected as yet another example of the US and the UK’s attempting to control Iran or impose their will."
"We should recognize Iran’s right to have access to a civil nuclear program, but like everyone else Iran must comply with the IAEA," the Iran group chair said.
She suggested the government’s argument should be that enriching fuel is as "uneconomically inviable for the Belgians, as it would be for the Iranians."
On Iran’s human rights record, Starkey also warned that "we must avoid at all costs the lunatic strategy that a variety of neo- Conservatives in the United States appear to be parading." "To suggest that one way to bring down the regime in Iran is to stir up conflict between all the ethnic groups there, in order to achieve fragmentation," she said.
"That appears to be giving an immense puff to a number of rather spurious groups in the United States that claim to represent different ethnic groups in Iran," she added.
Howells highlighted the contractions in Britain foreign policy by pointing out that Iran was a "very important country" but that all of the government’s discussions on relations were "almost always couched in negative terms."
"We want Iran to be a great country. It has a wonderfully rich history as everybody who goes to the British Museum can see for themselves," he said of the current exhibition in London.
The Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East also argued that Britain had "much on which to cooperate with Iran," using efforts to combat drug trafficking from Afghanistan as an example.
"It is all the more hurtful, in a way, that Iran chooses to snub our approach when we have kept the country for at least the last two years from having to face an immediate referral to the United Nations Security Council," he said about the nuclear stand-off.
Howells said Iranians were "very skilled diplomats" that was acknowledged across the world. But for them to snub Britain’s approach was "extremely worrying and a backward step," he said.
He argued that there was "absolutely no explanation" for Iran’s nuclear conversion program, given that the country did not have any working reactors.
The Minister, who is a former vice chair of Labor Friends of Israel, defended Britain’s double standards by insisting he applied the "same conditions to Israel to Iran" and that the UK had always asked Israel to abide by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.