Tuesday, February 25, 2003
The Foreign Affairs Committee and Iran - 25th February 2003, 20.33

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee was taking questions on Iran. First up was Dr Ali Ansari, lecturer in the history of the Middle East at the University of Durham, who appeared to view Iran as a democracy (of sorts).

The late shah's former finance minister, who now lives in America, Jahangir Amuzegar, says in the Journal of Foreign Affairs, January's edition, his final concluding sentences on his article about Iran's crumbling revolution are, "the theocracies' days are numbered; Iran's own internal currents assure this." Do you agree?

(Dr Ansari) In broad terms, yes, absolutely. I do not like to use the term theocracy, but the system as it stands at the moment is not sustainable if it refuses - and it is a minority here who are being very difficult - to adapt to the needs of the young people (and the needs and the pressure are there; Iran is unique in this respect in the Middle East). It is not sustainable as it stands.

On weapons of mass destruction: Dr Gary Samore, Director of Studies, International Institute for Strategic Studies:

(Sir John Stanley) We have been informed that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr Kharrazi, has said on the official Iranian state media, "Iran has no plan to produce nuclear weapons and all efforts in this field are intended for peaceful means". Are you saying to the Committee that in your judgment that is a lie?

(Dr Samore) I think it is patently false. If you look at the facilities that Iran is building, the heavy water plant and the gas centrifuge enrichment plant, they cannot be plausibly justified as part of a civil nuclear power program....

So are you saying to the Committee that in your judgment the Iranian government is lying?

(Dr Samore) Yes.


(Dr Samore) Yes.

In the quotation that I have just read from the Foreign Minister.

(Dr Samore) Yes.

On terrorism:

(Mr Pope) It seems that we are getting a clear picture about Iran. This is a country which is repressing many of its own citizens, it is exporting terrorism, partly financing Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic-Jehad . It is developing weapons of mass destruction. So this is no Sweden. But do you think Bush was right in the axis of evil to lump it in with North Korea and Iraq. It seemed to me that whilst not a great friend of the west it is of a different kind of a state to the other two and it was probably a strategic error on Bush's part to put Iran in with Iraq and North Korea. What do you think?

(Dr Samore) From an analytical stand point it is a very different type of problem. In the case of North Korea and Iraq you are dealing with fundamentally dictatorial states, one man rule. In the case of Iran it is much more complicated and that makes it both better and worse I think in some respects. It is better in the sense that one can hope to strengthen the moderate elements and produce an improvement in behaviour that way. It is worse in the sense that I find it very, very difficult to figure out how any action one takes will actually reverberate within the endless and very complicated and murky warfare that goes on in Tehran. Some people who are not particular fans of President Bush think that including Iran in the axis of evil was actually a very good thing because it strengthened the hands of the moderates who are able to say to other elements, "Your behaviour is putting us on a very dangerous list. The last thing we want to do is antagonise the United States." I think how our behaviour affects what is going on in Iran is very, very difficult to figure out. We may do things that actually have a beneficial effect even if, at first blush, they do not look too smart.

These exchanges clearly show how dangerous Iran is becoming: an unstable theocratic republic which is pursueing weapons of mass destruction and may soon find its publicly avowed ideological foes allied to all of the countries on its borders. One of the strategic consequences of invading Iraq is rarely publicised: the encirclement and containment of Iran.


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