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Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Sunday, 5 July 2009 10:29 UK

'Cold anger' at Iran

On Sunday 05 July Andrew Marr interviewed David Miliband MP, Foreign Secretary

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Foreign Secretary on treatment of British Embassy employees in Tehran.

ANDREW MARR:

David Miliband MP
David Miliband MP, Foreign Secretary

Well, as we heard in the news, Iran is turning up the heat in its bid to blame Britain for stirring up unrest there, following those recent elections.

The authorities of course routinely refer to Britain as "The Little Satan" - the Great Satan being of course the US. Distrust and animosity go back for decades, but the threat of show trials for British Embassy workers in Tehran is a very serious escalation.

I'm joined now by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.

Thank you for coming in, Mr Miliband.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

Can you update us with what's going on? As we understand it, there is one British, senior British employee there facing trial. Is that still the case?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well there has been a development overnight in respect of the eighth person who had been arrested. I spoke to our Ambassador on our daily call last night, and the good news is that he was told by the Deputy Foreign Minister that the eighth person would indeed be released today; that the papers had been signed, that there would not be a court process or charges.

That leaves one more in custody and all of our efforts are now directed towards getting that person out.

ANDREW MARR:

Now you had hoped to speak to your opposite number in Tehran. Has that happened?

DAVID MILIBAND:

That hasn't happened yet. I don't think you need to read anything into that. We've had two conversations in the course of the week and, as I say, the Deputy Foreign Minister met our Ambassador last night. I think what is significant is that the whole of the European Union, and actually the international community more broadly, has been absolutely united in saying that there is no place for this sort of intimidation or harassment and that there will be consequences if it continues. And I think that has been an important part of this equation.

ANDREW MARR:

Why do you think that the Iranian regime has focused so aggressively on Britain?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well in a way it's simple: we're there, we have a history in Iran - some of it littered with our mistakes as well as with theirs - and we have a very principled and consistent position about Iran's responsibilities in the region and more widely on the nuclear question. So it's not difficult to see why they would pick on us. What I think is significant is that this is a debate within Iran. I mean the passion of the debate before the election, the real intensity of engagement about what sort of Islamic Republic they want to be, brought out the best of Iranian education and civilisation. We've seen the worst in the violence since the election obviously.

ANDREW MARR:

And do you regard it really as a stolen election?

DAVID MILIBAND:

I haven't seen any of the ballot papers or any of the ballot boxes. I don't know if President Ahmadinejad got 63% of the vote. What I know is that many people in Iran think it's very odd indeed that in a large number of cities, the number of votes allegedly cast is greater than the number of voters. So we've got a very serious situation that is being debated within Iran. And we've always said it's for the Iranian people to decide their government, but it's for their government to protect their people, not abuse their rights.

ANDREW MARR:

There is a theory that Britain has been singled out for particular attack by the Iranian regime because they don't want to go head to head with the Americans; that ultimately they know there's got to be some kind of negotiation - it'll probably be with Washington - and that therefore we are, to put it brutally, a convenient scapegoat.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well the chanting of death to America has been a feature of Iranian life over the last 30 years, so I don't think we should feel that somehow the Americans are not getting their fair share of the…

ANDREW MARR:

Aggression.

DAVID MILIBAND:

…of the aggression. I don't think that's quite right. What I think is significant is that President Obama has broken a 30 year taboo in America. He's said it's not weak to stretch out your hand - it's strong; it's not weak to say that we want to sit down for discussions - it's strong. And I think that has had something of an impact in Iran.

Some of the divisions that you see do reflect the fact that the so-called pragmatists have an important argument to their, in their locker, which is that there isn't a staple of aggression from the West. Actually we are perfectly happy for Iran to exercise its rights in the international community, but only if it reflects its responsibilities as well.

ANDREW MARR:

And yet when it comes to this election, it seems as if aggression and repression have worked; that the opposition are still calling for people to protest, but basically - to put it crudely - Ahmadinejad has got away with it.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well there's been a grim and gruesome clampdown. More than 20 people have lost their lives - at least on a reported level; and the history of the last 20, 30 years - not just in Iran but elsewhere - is that repression can work in the short-term but legitimacy counts, and that's why debate is important. Iran has more bloggers per head of population than any other country in the world.

This is not a country cut off from the rest of the world; it's actually engaging with the rest of the world. And I think that those issues of legitimacy don't go away. They are there. They're played in fast forward, if you like, in modern politics in all countries. And I think that we shouldn't underestimate the depth of the discussion that's going on.

ANDREW MARR:

So well I mean you have a difficult job then - so trying to maintain proper diplomatic links with the regime or government in Tehran without Britain turning her back in any sense on the opposition?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well, look, it's very important that my anger, my cold anger about the way our staff have been treated - Iranians in this case, Iranian citizens - doesn't turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime because actually that actually doesn't do anything either for our people or for reform in Iran. What's important is that I turn my anger into determination to see that justice is done by our people. We are absolutely clear that…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And this man is not put on a show trial?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well the allegations of improper conduct have absolutely no basis in anything that we know about this honourable, patriotic Iranian who's been working in a completely open and transparent way for the UK. And I think it's very, very important that we send a clear message that we are confident about the way in which he's been doing his job, that we're clear about our goal - which is his release unharmed - and also that there is unity across the international community.

ANDREW MARR:

Which you've now got. Let me ask about Afghanistan. We've just heard again this morning terrible news: another two British troops killed by one of these explosive device bombs in Afghanistan. A lot of people in the papers over the last couple of days saying they don't really understand actually what we're doing there and they don't believe that arming and supporting even the Afghan Army in the long-term is going to produce a stable and settled country.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well it's really important that we do debate these things. There is a very clear mission, which is to make sure that Afghanistan is able to defend itself from an insurgency that would become an incubator for international terrorism if it was allowed to take over the country again. That is the mission. And it's a mission that requires us to build up Afghan capacity - the security forces that you talked about - but also civilian government, and that's why the credible elections this year, in August, are so important. And for the first time now, there is real military pressure on the insurgency from the West in Afghanistan; from the East, from the Pakistanis; and from the air, from the Americans. Now there… Just to finish the point. There won't be a military solution. There needs to be a civilian counterpart to that and so district by district, province by province, we need to ensure that there is credible government in Afghanistan to which former Taliban can reconcile themselves and come into the political system.

ANDREW MARR:

You mentioned Pakistan there. Now only a few months ago, it looked as if Pakistan itself was on the edge of some kind of collapse. Now I know there's been a surge back in the North again, but what's your current assessment of that country?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well it's taken decades for that problem to reach its current very serious state - economic, social, political, security problem. There'll be foreign secretaries sitting in this chair for many years to come talking about Pakistan. But I do think the last six weeks have been significant. Six weeks ago, the headlines were that the Taliban were 70 kilometres from Islamabad, from the capital.

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Pakistanis were asking themselves am I safe to stay in the country, or should I leave? Now I think the tide has turned significantly in the last six weeks because the civilian and military authorities have come together to beat back this insurgency. Now it's critical that there is a resettlement of these 2.8 million refugees from the Swat Valley back into Northern Pakistan because that is the only way you can assert…

ANDREW MARR:

Because I mean if Pakistan went, that would be game over in the entire region, wouldn't it?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well I think it has bigger consequences than that. It goes beyond the region.

ANDREW MARR:

What because of the nuclear…

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well not just because of that, but the mortal threat to Pakistan that the insurgency faces is a threat to decent life all over the place because we know that more than 70% of the terrorist attacks planned in the UK have links back to Pakistan. So we have a very strong shared interest in working with the Pakistani authorities and that's what we do. They're now our second largest aid recipient because they need a socioeconomic plan as well as a political plan.

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh. Let's talk a little bit about domestic politics. You are going to be making a speech tomorrow about the future direction of the Labour Party.

DAVID MILIBAND:

(over) It's actually a speech…

ANDREW MARR:

What in essence are you going to be telling people?

DAVID MILIBAND:

It's actually the John Smith Memorial Lecture.

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

DAVID MILIBAND:

It's 15 years since John Smith died. It seems incredible. A lot has changed in Britain since that time. One thing that hasn't changed that I want to reflect on tomorrow is the need for political parties to completely reinvent themselves for the modern world. 20th century structures won't do in the 21st century. We've seen the Obama campaign mobilise a whole new generation of political actors.

ANDREW MARR:

So you need a new Labour Party in effect?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well we have a magnificent Labour Party in many ways - the diligence and the decency of our activists is a real example - but we are 200,000 people. And what's interesting. The only Left of Centre party that was successful in Europe in the European Elections was the Greek Socialists. One reason why is that they have completely changed the way they are organised.

There are now more than 10% of Greeks, nearly a million people, engaged in that party - friends as well as members. And I think that there are ideas we can develop in Britain because our political crisis - the expenses scandal - makes this more urgent. We should be looking at, in the way in America they have registered Democrats and registered Republicans on the electoral roll. We should be looking at that here. We should be looking at whether or not a percentage of the money that we raise for the party shouldn't be donated to charity as a real act of corporate social responsibility to show that we're serious about putting something back into the country.

We should be… A third and really important thing. We have a unique asset in this country. Trade unions want to have a political voice. That's a good thing. We have more than 3 million trade unionists who pay the political levy, but we don't make half enough use of them - either to listen to them or to lead them.

And I think those ideas are something that build on what John Smith talked about, they build on what Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman have been taking forward in terms of the development of the party. And I think that alongside the policy agenda that will decide the future, so will these organisational questions.

ANDREW MARR:

Well you say these are organisational questions. Very important, I'm sure they are as well. But what about the fundamental political argument going on at the moment?

What about all these independent voices in today's papers saying that politicians in your party (as well as other parties) are failing to tell the truth about the depth of the economic crisis and, therefore, the very, very hard decisions that are going to have to be taken on public spending?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well let's address that directly. I mean the Chancellor was accused last September of being too pessimistic about the state of the economy when he said it was the worst recession for 60 years. We have a plan published in the budget openly and honestly to raise taxes and rein in spending, to halve the deficit in the next 5 years that is clear as daylight, and I haven't seen a peep from the opposition party saying we applaud your honesty about these tax rises and these spending curbs.

ANDREW MARR:

Because the tax rises, as you know, are far too small or hitting too many… too small a number of people to produce anything like the kind of money that you're going to need.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well…

ANDREW MARR:

Can I just…

DAVID MILIBAND:

Yes, sorry.

ANDREW MARR:

There is going to have to be… Everybody knows there's going to have to be some really tough decisions taken on the public spending side, and what we've had from the Labour government is that you're not even going to publish a forward statement on your spending plans.

DAVID MILIBAND:

No, no, no, I'm sorry. We have, number one, a clear plan published to halve the deficit in the next 5 years. Secondly, we have an in important economic argument that in a recession you need public spending to avoid the sort of mass unemployment that creates the debts of the future.

And I think it's interesting that the CBI this week should have cut their estimate of total unemployment by 300,000 because of the action that we've taken. Thirdly, for the future of course there's got to be a credible prospectus and we will have a credible prospectus.

ANDREW MARR:

And you will, you will tell us before the election…

DAVID MILIBAND:

We will have a…

ANDREW MARR:

…where you're going to have to cut?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well we will have a credible prospectus for the period after 2011. But when you're in the middle…

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, well that's interesting.

DAVID MILIBAND:

…of an economic tsunami, you don't take a weather forecast. You make sure that you get through it. And that's what we're going to do and then we'll move forward.

ANDREW MARR:

On that famous, that now famous or infamous Thursday evening when you were phoned by Peter Mandelson and asked whether you were going to leave the government or not, you had to take a very fast decision.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well I'd taken it beforehand. I tried to persuade…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) In the course of the day?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well I tried to persuade James Purnell to stay in the government because he's a man of huge talent and we needed him in the government, and I failed in that.

ANDREW MARR:

Was there a moment when you were thinking actually I might go, I might go with my friends?

DAVID MILIBAND:

No, I think that my best efforts and the best efforts of the whole Labour Party are to carry on, learn the lessons of the last 10 years, build on what's gone right, change what's gone wrong, and show that we actually have a clear vision for the future of the country. And I think the document that the Prime Minister published last week, Building Britain's Future - for all the stuff about process in the papers, there are real ideas to fight for…

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

DAVID MILIBAND:

…and that's what we're going to do.

ANDREW MARR:

But you never… If you'd gone and Alan Johnson had gone, that would have been it for Gordon Brown.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well, look, you can say if the whole government resigns, then… The important thing is that…

ANDREW MARR:

Well I'm talking about you really.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Yeah, well I'm talking about me and I'm saying that I tried to persuade James to stay in the government because I think we need him. I believe that we have a government that has real energy and ideas and…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Do you think you're ac…Do you think you have any influence really at the core of that government, or is it run in effect by Lord Mandelson, Ed Balls and Gordon Brown…

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well, look, the Prime…

ANDREW MARR:

…with the Blairites left to one side?

DAVID MILIBAND:

This Labour Party is more ideologically united than at any stage, I would argue, in the post-war period, in the last 60 years. It is a party that has learnt the lessons of history that doesn't…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But you're ditching Post Office privatisation, you're ditching compulsory ID cards.

DAVID MILIBAND:

Hang on, let's just deal with the ID cards thing.

ANDREW MARR:

Did you know about that decision before it was announced?

DAVID MILIBAND:

Well hang on, let's… It was made a long time ago, and I'll tell you how. The legislation bringing in voluntary ID cards says they can't be compulsory until you have another Act of Parliament. I knew about that. I didn't… I wasn't involved with Alan Johnson's announcement on Tuesday about the airside business…

ANDREW MARR:

No, but he said on Tuesday that he didn't want… he wanted it to be a voluntary scheme, which is not what we had understood before. It's quite big.

DAVID MILIBAND:

(over) No, but that is the legislation… Well, I'm sorry, you often say things are hidden. There's legislation which says it's a voluntary scheme. I think that ID cards are going to offer greater security, greater convenience to people, and actually they're going to be something that really does deliver the…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) They're not going to be compulsory?

DAVID MILIBAND:

No, they're not. They're going to be voluntary, as the Act of Parliament Act. Why is that a great defeat for anybody?

ANDREW MARR:

Well it's just interesting because we thought it was going to be compulsory in due course. It was an announcement which caused a great deal of interest and I gather it wasn't even discussed in cabinet.

DAVID MILIBAND:

But the… Hang on, the legislation says that we're going to have a voluntary system of ID cards and that there'd have to be a subsequent decision by Parliament if they were going to be compulsory.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

DAVID MILIBAND:

We are clear we actually want these ID cards. The Tories are claiming that they can save the money even though 70% of the costs are for biometric passports, so let's be clear about that.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me ask you about one other technology related story that didn't go terribly well, which is the story we were leading with this morning on the news about the MI6 Chief's wife putting all the family details and photographs and stuff on Facebook.

DAVID MILIBAND:

But what are you leading the news… I mean what does that say about you? What are you leading on the news?

ANDREW MARR:

This is a man in charge of MI6…

DAVID MILIBAND:

Yeah, but it is not a…

ANDREW MARR:

…very, very important. And all of these allegedly important details are splashed across Facebook.

DAVID MILIBAND:

(over) Yeah and what do you know? You know that he wears Speedo swim…swimming… swimsuit. I mean what is that? That's not a state secret. What are you leading the news with the fact that we've got…

ANDREW MARR:

Is this not embarrassing.

DAVID MILIBAND:

The fact that there's a picture that the Head of MI6 goes swimming. Wow! That really is exciting. I mean it is not a state secret.

ANDREW MARR:

His friends, his family.

DAVID MILIBAND:

His wife's friends. It's not a state secret that he wears Speedo swimming trunks. For goodness sake, let's grow up because this allegation that there's his great secrets and then you find out it's about his swimming trunks. And the fact that his family's getting dragged into it. He is an out…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You think it's okay for the family members of sort of leading spooks' families to be known, to be identified on the Internet.

DAVID MILIBAND:

He was appointed… He was appointed 10 days ago to be the Head of MI6. He's an outstanding professional who will do a really good job in an outstanding organisation that does a huge amount for this country. A newspaper's gone onto Facebook and got pictures of him in swimming trunks. The fact that you're leading on it when we've got Iran, Afghanistan and the other issues that we're dealing with says more about…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well maybe after what you've said, we'll be leading on something else.

DAVID MILIBAND:

I hope so.

ANDREW MARR:

But for now, thank you very much indeed…

DAVID MILIBAND:

Thank you.

ANDREW MARR:

…Mr Miliband.

INTERVIEW ENDS


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.


NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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