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UK troops `not free' to enter Iran, says House of Commons leader Geoff Hoon

London, Oct 14, IRNA-Leader of the House of Commons Geoff Hoon has denied that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has suggested that local British commanders in southern Iraq can authorize troops to enter Iran.

"I did not interpret his remarks in relation to British soldiers in the way that my hon. Friend does," the former Defence Secretary told parliament when asked by Labor MP Jim Cousins to clarify Straw's comments made on BBC Newsnight on Wednesday.

Cousins said that the Foreign Secretary "appeared to suggest that British forces in southern Iraq are free under certain circumstances, and with the approval of local commanders on the ground, to operate over the border with Iran."

Speaking during a debate Thursday on next week's parliamentary business, Cousins, who chair the Northern Group of Labor MPs said he wanted to draw the attention of the House of Commons leader to Straw's remarks as it was a "serious matter."

But Hoon insisted that he thought the Foreign Secretary handled a series of extremely difficult and sometimes emotional questions during the program, which was examining the failure of British policy in Iraq, "with his usual very considerable skill."

Britain's main opposition Conservative Party also challenged Straw to clarify whether he had authorized UK troops in Iraq to cross the border into Iran made a political decision.

"Sending our Armed Forces across an international border clearly is a major political decision, with profound implications for Britain's international relations," shadow Foreign Secretary Liam Fox said.

"It is inconceivable that military commanders would permit their troops to cross an international border without explicit political authorization to do so. That clearly would be a decision solely for your Government," he said in a letter to Straw.

Fox, who is a candidate to be the next Tory leader, said that he was "shocked and disturbed" at the Foreign Secretary telling the BBC's Newsnight on Wednesday that it was "not for him to speculate" when asked if British troops would be allowed to `cross into Iran.' The Conservative's Homeland Security spokesman Patrick Mercer voiced fears that British military action against Iran was looming, saying that by going public on claims of Iranian involvement in Iraq meant the government had to back up the threats or lose face.

"This represents the first step to military action - a very serious situation," Mercer was quoted saying by his local Newark Advertiser newspaper in the English Midlands Friday.

"Once the government has gone public on this it has to do something. Forget the party politicking and backslapping, come on people realize how serious this is," he warned.

... Payvand News - 10/14/05 ... --

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