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Visit by UK Parliament’s APPG for Iran: Common interests to be served by full restoration of bilateral relations

A UK parliamentary delegation consisting of Jack Straw MP and Ben Wallace MP (as Joint Chairs of the APPG) accompanied by Lord Lamont of Lerwick and Jeremy Corbyn MP visited Iran from 6-10 January 2014 at the invitation of the Majlis (the Islamic Parliament of Iran). The main purpose of the visit was to advance inter-parliamentary dialogue to build better relations with Iran, including through inviting a reciprocal return visit from Tehran. The delegation was provided funding support by the British Group of the IPU which is now working closely with the APPG in preparation to host a return visit from the Majils to the UK later in 2014.

The delegation’s programme in Tehran focused on meetings with the Iran-United Kingdom Parliamentary Friendship Group of the Majils, led by Dr Mansouri. The delegation also held high-level meetings with the Foreign Minister, Dr Mohammed Zaif, and his counterparts in the Ministries of Defence and Industry and Energy. UK delegates also met the Chief of Staff to President Rouhani and the Strategic Council of the Supreme Leader. In all these exchanges, the delegation discussed how best to enhance relations with Iran, including addressing nuclear issues and the impact of sanctions, perspectives on the war in Syria and key human rights issues. The delegation also consulted with the Chamber of Commerce and the Iran-UK Trade Association on trade and economic prospects between both countries and undertook a visit to the Peace Museum, including a discussion with victims of chemical weapons from the Iran-Iraq war.

Relations between the UK and Iran are long-standing but have faced periods of strain following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In recent years, tensions have particularly surrounded Iran’s nuclear programme and its failure to meet disclosure requirements of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The resulting international sanctions have greatly affected people in Iran, including regarding access to medical supplies. Nevertheless, in recent months, an interim agreement on nuclear processing has been reached and a partial lifting of sanctions to trade with Iran began in January 2014. Both sides observed that the election of President Rouhani had improved bilateral relations, prompting interest in exploring full restoration of relations, including through expanding inter-parliamentary dialogue.

The UK delegation also raised the issue of human rights in Iran, including concerns about the death penalty and the situation facing religious minorities. In response, Iranian officials said they would fully participate in the Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council, noting they were also prepared to re-engage through a human rights dialogue with the European Union so long as questions of double standards were adequately addressed to the satisfaction of both sides.

Considering the outcomes of the visit, the delegation concluded that there ought to be a rapid restoration of full relations with Iran and they have subsequently discussed this with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), including how this could improve prospects of peace in the region as a whole, including in Syria. The delegation was very grateful for the support of the BGIPU and especially grateful to Dr Mansouri and the Iran-UK Parliamentary Friendship Group for their invitation, welcome and excellent arrangements in Tehran, noting they very much look forward to a return visit to London.

Jeremy Corbyn MP