Lord Corbett of Castle Vale On: ‘Iran: Partner or Pariah in a Turbulent Region’ 7th July 2009

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

On:

‘Iran: Partner or Pariah in a Turbulent Region’
7th July 2009

 

The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, CBE, CMG: I am David Montgomery, former chairman and former president some years ago, and I have been recycled into this job tonight for various reasons, but I am recycled all the time, I am recycled into the House of Lords at the moment.  So I am waiting for a report process so I can be recycled after tonight. 

This is a great occasion to be here, this is a new idea to incorporate supper and then a discussion meeting after it.  So thank Justin for what you think of the idea.  We have got a very good chain of speakers tonight; we have Lord Corbett there who actually sits very near me in the House, you all know he’s a Labour member and I am a crossbencher, but he sits very near me so I can hear him muffling when I get up to leave.  Before I go anywhere I want to bring in Lady Symons of Vernham Dean and she’s the Chairman.  She’s just flown in from Tripoli, she’s always flying in from somewhere. 

Just as when she was minister, she was always flying off to places and I had a great deal to do with that back then.  Since she has started flying off elsewhere we have seen less of her because she is always flying in or flying off somewhere.  But it’s a great pleasure to have her back here again and before I ask Lord Corbett to speak, I am going to ask her to say a few words.

The Rt. Hon. Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean:David, thank you very much and if I may say no discussion would go anywhere without your party following they way you are with us in the House of Lords.  I am very glad that the process of report has slowed down personally.  But, there are many opinions about that.  As you said, I’ve literally, I am sorry I look very bedraggled, but I’ve literally just got off the plane from Tripoli and that is relevant really to what we are going to be talking about this evening.  Robin’s a great expert on the subject.  Is Iran’s place in the makeup of the very interesting, complicated, and sometimes quite alarming politics of the Middle East.

  I just wanted to say a few words about Robin; he’s been a colleague of mine for a very long time in the House of Lords.  This is a subject to which he has been immensely faithful over the years.  He has a wealth of knowledge, he instigates debates in the House of Lords, he puts down questions of what is happening in Iran and really there couldn’t be a better time to be discussing this in the light of what has happened over the Iranian elections recently.  I am sure he would want to talk about the internal projects in Iran and what has happened.  We have had even in the past couple of days some of the senior clerics in Iran have taken issue with the leading clerics’ over what has happened in relation to the authenticity of the election.  What I would also say is that Iran, in terms of Middle East politics, is an extraordinary catalyst for opinion at the moment.  The fact is that Iran’s Arab neighbours are at the same time very respectful and deeply fearful about what is happening in Iran. 

They are constantly engaged in skirmishes over territorial difficulties, but of course the real problem which goes to the heart of the difficulty is how they perceive their differences in terms of Shia and Sunni politics in the region and of course that is what has affected so much us not only in Iraq, but right the way across the Middle East.  So Robin has made a point of really getting into the intricacies of the politics and I much look forward to what he is going to say. 

I want to say one other thing about Robin, he is the elected leader of the backbench peers in the House of Lords, but you may think that is not a very remarkable position to have, but let me tell you, getting the Labour peers in the House of Lords to coalesce around anybody as their elected Labour leader is quite a feat.  And as chairman, he has done an excellent job for us in keeping us together over what you may have noticed has not been an entirely easy period, for those of us in the Houses of Parliament.  That’s perhaps difficult for us and Robin, but he has been a tremendous captain in drawing us together over that period and for that I thank you too.  So, Robin it’s wonderful that you are going to be speaking to us this evening, it is wonderful indeed, and I very much look forward to what you’ve got to say.  Thank you.

The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, CBE, CMG:Thank you very much, that’s all very good, that’s got us off to a good start, but before I introduce Lord Corbett, I just wanted to say that one of this evening’s events circumstances is in honour of Lord Slynn of Hadley who was long time Vice President and involved in many of these sort of debates and initiatives between Iraq and Iran, he would be very well pleased.  He was brilliantly cherished and we miss him dearly and there were many of us who knew him well.  So this is slightly in his honour.  Now with no further ado we look forward to what he is going to say, thank you very much.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Can I first of all thank the group for inviting me here, the timing is spectacular.  I like to think that I have a small hand or a small finger as you will hear in a moment in the events in Iran.  

If anyone has any doubt about the menace that this fractioned regime in Tehran means, they should get rid of that immediately.  This regime promises lethal weapons of nuclear weapons and violent fundamentalism and I do not think my own government or the government in the EU or the government of the US properly understands the real and present menace that this means and I hope to demonstrate this.  Now there are few people inside Iran or outside who believe that the recent elections were either fair or free or accurate, I just tell you on the back of my experience, as a member of Parliament for twenty three years, when I was acting as an MP in Birmingham, there were about 40,000/45,000 votes involved in the count and if they got through that in four or five hours, then they were doing good and that was with about five or six candidates. 

Those in charge of elections in Iran claimed two hours of polls closed, they had counted twenty million votes.  Now I have to tell you whatever else they can do in Iran, they can’t do better than they did in Birmingham because we have been longer at it than one summer. 

The developments of our battle are quite extraordinary in like the Middle East setting of the ?? on the1st of July.  In a report yesterday, forensic statistician, Walter Mebane of the University of Michigan contributed polls results, and I quote, “suggest very strongly in which there was widespread fraud in which the vote count for Ahmadinejad were substantially augmented by artificial means.”  Artificial means means stuffing ballot boxes before any vote had been properly cast.  Don’t disregard him, Timothy Garton Ash 2nd of July, who quotes, Ali Ansari in a Chatham House study, “recorded in two provinces, more than 100% of developed eligible voters cast their votes.”

This is nothing new in Iran by the way.  The last election four years ago, they were boasting in Tehran that they had gotten 106% turnout.  Now those with long memories know that even in the Soviet Union they did not do this.  They scaled it down to 99.9%.  The speaking opposite claims that  the turnout was also 100% in more than 100 cities regarding council common, this is the sultan point in mullahs who have got one of the decisive say in what happens, there are only fifty such cities where there is ??.  Can you believe it?  The accusation is that there is a hundred. 

But, anytime there ?? it doesn’t matter.  Now those people you can say, and of course mullahs do say this, are bias because they are Western, and as we know Britain and the United States are their enemies.  So let’s just see what happened in the Holy City of Qom.  With the assembly of scholars and researchers, and this is the centre of Shia land in Iran, rejected the official results in Qom for the release of political prisoners. 

Other candidates’ complaints and strong evidence in both regimes were ignored, peaceful protests by the Iranians were violently oppressed, dozens of Iranians were killed, and hundreds were illegally arrested.  Now don’t pass that off lightly because the so called Supreme Leader, what a lovely title, implies permanence doesn’t it.  He has the last say, now the Majlis parliament merely consults him.  The Supreme Leader had declared the results of the election on the day following, on a Saturday, as a divine assessment.  These mullahs in Qom have taken on the word of the Supreme Leader. 

That’s not happened in the thirty years of this Qom regime.  Were you cheered like I was for those protesters, happy smiling faces, particularly young women, working on the side of their brothers, their cousins, and their fathers, side by side, happy, confident, smiling, knowing, and most of those taking part in the protest, by the way, hadn’t voted, they boycotted the thing because they knew they had been cheated, they knew the election had been stolen, and they were demanding the election was rerun under UN supervision.  How brave.  Do not underestimate the bravery of the people who took part in those demonstrations and do not underestimate the lives the regime totals make up.  Nada, a twenty seven year old woman who had not voted, who was not part of the demonstrations in northern Tehran, who got out of her car with her friends to see what was happening and was shot dead.  Shot dead.  Awful, she wasn’t even protesting, she was looking at what the protest was about.  And all we saw within two or three days were the ugly snarling faces of those who lead this awful regime. 

What a contrast.  Iran has one of the youngest populations in that part of the world.  It has certainly one of the best educated.  It rations petrol sitting on the world’s fourth largest supplies of gases and oil.  It has an unemployment rate admitted of 30% and probably a lot more, inflation heaven knows where that is.  And any young Iranian with those qualifications who wants to feel part of this world has to go abroad, has to go abroad to get a job where they can exercise their talents and skills. 

One of the interesting things about Western commentators and journalists in the Iranian elections, there is this perpetual hunt for a moderate.  Whenever the elections come there is always a moderate there.  The current one, I’ll come to Mousavi in a minute, the current one is a former president, Rafsanjani.  He was a man who smiled, he kept smiling.  Rafsanjani and his family, he is among the hundred men in the world spoiled plundered from the Iranian people.  And I have to say, I doubt that prayer had anything to do directly with the fortune with which that family has amassed.  Mousavi the moderate, yes the green one, he was moderate.

 In the single year of 1988 when he was Prime Minister, 30,000 members and supporters of the Iranian Resistance were murdered, murdered.  They specialized in hanging people in public from the end of cranes.  They make no distinction between men, women or children by the way.  They hang more people in this world, than all of the countries that still use hangings other than China.  And the latest figures for January, 57 people were hung.  What a face to present of Islam, the Muslims, what a face.  That is the only way in which they can cling on to power. 

So what do these elections mean?  The unelected mullahs who decide what happen in that country have got a choice.  They all by the way, there were no moderates, because they would not let them stand by the way.  They all had to subscribe to the rule that the mullahs and those among the four sides of the Supreme Leader.  They’re at a crossroads, very much a crossroads, especially after what happened in Qom.  They will turn inwards.  Democracy in Iran was always a pretend it was neither a democracy or was it a truly Islamic country in my view. 

They perverted their form of Islam to serve their own purposes.  It’s hard though, and I am reluctant to say this, but the only comparison I can easily think of is like the matter in Chicago.  Keep controlling more and more because you need to control more and more because you need to stay in power.  Amir Taheri, in the Times on the 30th of June, said that if the Supreme Leader wins the power struggle, Iran will drop its republican tension which they truly were to become an Islamic emirate and if the opposition wins the theocratic aspect of the regime will end allowing Iran to become a normal republic with powerful people and that’s really what all of these demonstrations were all about.  It will be quite interesting to watch over time that the prisoners in those demonstrations disappear.  The people then were arguing, the language is flattering it’s not my language and I’m just saying it, “death to the dictator, death to the Supreme Leader, democracy.”

 This is a huge seat check; this went beyond the protests of the election and the feeling that the election had been stolen from them.  Martin Fletcher of the Times wrote that the regime has incurred visual hatred in the disenfranchised civilians and ratifies generation of Iranian youths. 

The fury will not dissipate, it will fester and grow, and one day it will erupt.  And I must say my reaction watching that is not like a volcano, there’s puffs of smoke there, but you’ve just got the feeling after watching those powerful demonstrations of the young of Iran, you’ve just got the feeling there that this whole pent up fury of what was going on in their country.  Particularly, it is one of the ironies of this regime that from here a satellite broadcasting station in which is called Press TV, I don’t know why, but you never get any criticism of the regime of it, satellite of course is banned in Iran, but this is just the way they go on.  The other criticism I have of commentators and journalists apart from this perpetual hunt for a moderate is that there is no mention at all of the rule of these protests of the Iranian resistance, and yes there is one, very difficult in a country like this, of course it is. 

At the moment the mullahs men are going door to door trying to hunt down those who may photograph the demonstrations and there are said to be 4,000 people arrested in the holiday camp known as the Evin Jail.  I jest when I say that, you normally come out of debt.  You may or may not know that the Iranian resistance led by the MKE Coalition National Council resistance in which the main members the Mojahedin have ran, in 2001/2002 followed suit based in north eastern Iraq.  They laid down their weapons to the Americans, they were all interviewed seeing as they had gotten involved in terrorism and none were found and none were charged.  They were given protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  I reported to give you tribute from a refugee guard commander, Mullah Tadin, oh by the way the Revolutionary Guards have second jobs drug smuggling across the border from Afghanistan and then retailing it across Tehran and they probably have the highest heroin user population in the world all run by the Revolutionary Guard cause they do nothing, oh by the way they have also got essential construction businesses and guess where they get their business from, the government. 

He was kind enough to say, and I take this as a compliment, the footprints of the PMI can be detected in the disturbances he told in the statement of Fars Leader on the 15th of June.  So what are the angles of the Iranian resistance?  Note there are three, concurrent and guide protests to decide the slogans and this is why the slogans change in disappointment in the result of the elections it’s going on to free UN supervised elections try to protect the protest movement from the filtration of the mullahs and their men, secondly to maximize support for their uprising, and thirdly, and they are very successful at this, to ensure maximum publicity inside and outside of Iran of the voice of the uprising.  The resistance has become the main source of video coverage for foreign media, now almost fully banned from filming in the streets of Tehran.

 Its one of the disappointments in my life really, and I have had successes as well.  The US government, the UK government, and the US for that matter, doesn’t seem able to understand the depth and the strength of support in which the Iranian Resistance has got inside the country.  The allegations which the Foreign Office and the State Department for that matter, still ?? ’87 and ’83. 

Are so out of historical context we have no current value all whose accuracy and source cannot be independently verified and I just do not understand while in the back of the court victory thirty five of us from all parties on both ends when we took them to court and wiped the floor with them, which led to Parliament lifting the ban on the PMI in this country I still don’t know why they cling to that view.  What they don’t understand, the basis for the support for the Iranian Resistance inside Iran and the cameras and phones of 120,000 members and supporters over the last thirty years have been slaughtered by the mullahs.  I mentioned earlier 30,000 in a single year and I have to tell you that when Val and I meet groups of Iranian exiles here, in Canada and else where, one by one they will come up to you and tell you my brother was murdered by the mullahs, my sister was murdered by the mullahs, my father was taken away, disappeared, by the mullahs.

 There is barely a single street in Iran that doesn’t quietly have a dedication to the martyred supporter of the Iranian Resistance.  It really does puzzle me that this government and others think that ?? the Iranians, despite what the Courts think on the basis of the evidence, they think that does something to help their policy to try and get these people to talk seriously about their nuclear weapons development.  Don’t misunderstand me; it is up to the Iranian people to decide in the free elections of which they need whether they want the secular republican respect for human rights in which the Iranian Resistance offers. 

Over the last six years, led by the former Foreign and Home Secretary, Jack Straw, we have given offer after offer to the mullahs to come clean about their nuclear weapons development program.  And what happened?  Nothing, except giving them another six years nearer to the material and mechanisms to develop a nuclear weapon.  I do not over state this; I do not over state this.  I said earlier, if anybody thinks they can sleep comfortably in their beds with those theocratic lunatics who fund groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and do what they can to thwart the Middle East peace process.  That lethal method, anyone who can sleep in their beds comfortably after that I’m afraid they’ve just got this wrong and I think, I still think, the UK, the EU, and the US just has not properly understood that. 

The US is strange, it is no surprise under Bush, but it is more of a surprise under Obama I must say.  They have the Iranian Resistance, the PMOI, and the Revolutionary Guard, the mullah’s private army on the list of terrorist organizations.  There are some who might describe that as NATO’s best and yet, the Americans who reviewed this in January this year, they have exactly the same evidence as was before our courts.  We do swap information.  As I said earlier, most of the allegations against the PMOI are historically out of date or they are contorted which cannot be changed.  Our country and the US knows, that seven out of every ten British and American troops killed in Iraq have been killed by roadside bombs manufactured in Iran, supplied by Iran, taken over fifty eight routes into Iraq by named people across named groups, details of which have been given to our Ministry of Defence and the State Department in the US; they know that and occasionally they will get up and complain about it, occasionally. 

They know that Iran sponsors, funds, trains and arms Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon to turnover the young government there.  And yet, and yet, they have doubts about the Iranian Resistance.  So what’s next?  It is a difficult one, this is, but I do believe in talking to people, but you’ve got to make clear what it is you want and what you talk about.  So the response to what is going on in Iran needs to be firm, clear, and precise.  They’ve been huffing and puffing because the Iranians disregard that as a sign of weakness. By the way, and this you’ll notice, I seem to remember asking a question about this.  You remember the four naval boats which the Iranians captured?  There were two out of four, eight of them, four are in a museum in Tehran, these are about a million pounds a piece by the way, I don’t know where the other four are.

 We didn’t get them back because they just think we are pussycats over this.  I think the way to deal with the Iranians, we’ve got to demonstrate, we and the rest of the international community, we are not going to tolerate the mullahs getting hold of nuclear weapons.  Now we can do this one of two ways but it is really their choice more than ours if you’d like, and don’t misunderstand me for a moment, I am not advocating in any shape or form military action.  What the West doesn’t understand is that the lethal weapon which the mullahs cannot cope is very simple, it is called democracy.  Because you have wreaked and engineered a position when that regime had no alternative, but to accept a UN supervised elections, that’s the end of it, they don’t believe it, but they need to understand that the world community means what it says and we will strengthen and tighten sanctions as much as we have to until that regime sits down and works out, we have choices here, and we have had choices all the way, I

 don’t quite believe we meant what we say.  I make a special plea to President Obama, who otherwise I am a fan of, why on earth do you keep the Iranian Resistance on your terrorist list?  As I said earlier, they have exactly the same evidence that we have, because all these things we share.  And the importance of this, the importance of what thirty-five of us did here, is that the signal we send to those millions in Iran who cry freedom, is they do not stand alone.  It may be very difficult for them inside that country with those conditions to stand up and demand it, but all the while that PMOI remain on the terrorist list here and the rest of Europe, the mullahs say ‘look, these people here they are terrorists, you want nothing to do with them.’  I must tell you, save your life, they went absolutely mad when we got them through this strife. 

So, I say again, it is up to the Iranian people to be allowed to have a choice in the government they want, but I think its very, very important to the rest of the world, particularly the Western world, to see that all that we stand alongside those who cry freedom.  We don’t want to interfere with it, we did that in 1953 ?? but we are with those who want democratic change and freedom ??  And this will encourage, I believe, to continuing oppositions in motion.  I just finish with this, this may sound strange, but I really do believe that one of the big contributing factors to the demolition of the Berlin Wall, and I was in tears that night watching that between going to an eye surgery in my early ?? and coming back, going there as expected and I got back about a half past ten or eleven, the whole in the wall ??

 I do believe that moments like that and I do believe in the impact in people being able to see through barriers and walls and though the mullahs may ban satellites and interfere with the internet and election.  Those brave young people in Iran see what is happening in?? And they can see that they are treated as pariah, accused quite rightly as gross interference in young democracy in Iraq.  They can’t want to grow up in that world and have their children in that world and after that they have been treated in that kind of world.  I think they don’t believe. I think they want the rights that the rest of us enjoy alongside the results of it, especially freedom and respect for human rights.  I mentioned their panic.  There have been fifty-seven sacred resolutions?? in Iran ??  Iran is not a truly Islamic country, it perverts and tricks that faith to keep its hold and power. 

I believe young Iran wants a modern, secular democracy reflecting belief in Islam and perhaps leading the way to achieving that in other Islamic states.  Thank you.

The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, CBE, CMG: Thank you very much indeed, that was quite brilliant.  ?? From a very low position of knowledge about this part of the world?? But, I have been privileged?? I’m going to ask William Morris who is the Secretary-General of the Next Century Foundation to say a few words and then open discussion.

William Morris, Secretary-General of the Next Century Foundation:  Thank you.  I’m going to talk to you perhaps a little briefly which I will give you some inside information on the situation that has emerged in Iran.  I would hope that on this issue I would come to be a little less impartial than I should be, so I don’t know whether I am speaking my personal stance for you rather than for the foundation I represent.  In terms of what has been going on in the last few years, maybe it is good to understand that Iran is a less backwards society than people think.  One in four people of the population are computer literate.  You have a society that has the largest blogosphere in the world.  Massive, massive, huge, powerful blog.  It’s a fascinating society and they blog both in English and in Farsi.

 The State Department helps fund a thing called Fire fox, some of you who probably use it as a browser, in order to enable, part of their motive in helping fund Fire fox was to enable people in totalitarian governments who actually blog without being traced.  It is a very useful forum in that way; the other forums we use including the famous Twitter that you are aware of.  In the run up to the elections, there were so many text messages going back and forth (Iran has a population of 70 million) and in one day alone in the run up to the elections there were 200 million text messages exchanged so the mobile phone is used massively. 

I mention it because what the government did on the day of the election was to switch off the mobile phone for five hours.  They did this because mobile phone is used to report for election monitoring.  You know it is a very disparate country and they need to phone through the results, the monitoring needs to phone it through.  They switched them off for five hours to stop that from taking place.  More than that, a few months prior to the election they very cleverly managed to replace the then Interior Minister, Pour-Mohammadi, with their own man and a friend of the President.  Now what this meant was that they could actually manipulate the vote on the day of the count.  It was done very expertly and very swiftly. 

Their win was for Mousavi and that was quite strong for Mousavi and there are so many indicators that this was the case, not merely the question of the vote being higher in some twenty or more constituencies than the actual population.  There were also indicators like for instance Karroubi who got six million in the last election for president four years ago.  Karroubi got 700,000 votes.  Karroubi got less votes than Ahmadinejad did in Karroubi’s hometown.  So you know, the manipulation was gross and massive.  The situation was very disturbing for the population of Iran who were Ahmadinejad did not win this election.  Now they multiplied the votes not slightly, but massively so they gave Ahmadinejad a landslide.  I think it is quite important to realize the players involved, it’s not that Ahmadinejad was doing this, Ahmadinejad has a kind of guru he stands before at prayer or stands behind at prayer, Mustava Hashemi.  This man is in turn a follower of the Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi. 

Now Mesbah-Yazdi belongs to the Hojatiya sect.  All of the Supreme Leader’s family belongs to the Hojatiya sect.  Hojatiya sect is a sect that was outlawed by Ayatollah Khomeini at the time of the revolution.  Hojatiya sect is a very militant millennialist sect, when I say millennialist they believe in the return of the ?? and the last time they believed in chaos really, they didn’t fight in the revolution against the Shah and because they didn’t fight, Ayatollah Khomeini outlawed the group. 

Subsequently when Khomeini came to power, he needed all the legitimacy he could get and the Hojatiya sect was legalized because he needed the support of the powerful Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi.  So the group that has taken power really is very ?? the group that has taken power in Iran, you actually have a new government in Iran now, it is not like it was before under Ahmadinejad when you had certain checks and balances and for all the things in Iran, Iran was like a ?? it was not all bad.  Now those checks and balances have gone because you have a small and very fanatical fleet that has taken power in Iran and ?? in Iran today.  Those who have stood against them have been arrested including senior people

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