Foreign Office Minister Chris Mullin denied Wednesday that the Prime Minister`s office and Foreign Office were divided over the UK's foreign policy towards Iran, IRNA reported from London.
Accusation of the split were raised by veteran Conservative MP, Sir Teddy Taylor, in a brief debate on UK-Iran relations in parliament`s parrallel chamber, Wedminister Hall.
Taylor said that he was "very upset about the abrupt" change in British policy towards Iran, which he traced to Prime Minister Tony Blair`s meeting with Israel`s Ariel Sharon in London in July. He said it was a "huge error" to have negative relations with Iran. Iran, he said, was "one of the most sensible countries in the Middle East.
The Conservative MP compared the controvery over the government`s claim that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes with the 45 days demand made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for Iran to cooperate.
He said he had been surprised by the demand because the last report from IAEA`s director general has said there had been increased cooperation with Iran and access had been given to additional locations.
It seemed "almost foolish and arrogant" to deal with Iran in such a way, Taylor said and suggested that the first basic issue for the US and UK to reolve was to have "humility."
He believed that the US and UK "only supported democracy when it suited" and quoted such examples as the support given to the deposed shah of Iran and to Iraq in its war against Iran.
Then there was the "frightful destruction" of an Iranian Airbus over the Persian Gulf in 1988, which the US did not even apologise for, he said.
Although Taylor said he was not an expert on Iran and had never visited the country, but suggested that it was easy to see that Britain was thrwoing away an opportunity to improve relations and were instead treating Iran with "near contempt."
In response, Mullin said that there was "no doubt" that Iran was a country of growing international importance and there was a string British interest in the policies pursued by its government.
He described the British government`s policy towards Iran as persuing a "constructive but when necessary critical engagement" and cited cooperation in such areas as the fight against drugs, the reconstruction of Afghnaistan and in efforts to stabilise Iraq.
The UK supported President Mohammad Khatami`s civil society based upon the rule of law, the Foreign Office minister said. But although there was a string mandate for reform, he said the situation was complex and expressed hope he would succeed.
Mullin said that it would be wrong not to set out concerns about Iran, specifying there were worries about human rights, support for terrorist groups, the development of weapons of mass destruction and Iran`s nuclear program.
But he insisted the British government was united in its support against terrorism and would do all it can to support engagement in what he described as a "two-way process."
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