Page last updated at 17:05 GMT, Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Blair's 'gibberish' on democracy

Michael Howard
Mr Howard said dealing with Iran was a 'very tough issue'

Tony Blair is wrong to talk about democracy as the answer to all of the Middle East's problems, former Tory leader Michael Howard has said.

Quizzed on Iran in the Commons, Mr Blair said the world's security lay in spreading "freedom and democracy".

But Mr Howard later said he was talking "gibberish" given that Iran's president had been "democratically elected".

The West fears Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons after it broke seals on a research facility.

'Tough issue'

"To go on and on about democracy, has he forgotten that the president of Iran, the cause of all this trouble, was actually democratically elected?," Mr Howard told BBC Two's Daily Politics.

"I'm all for democracy but to say it's the answer to all the problems of the Middle East, and the world, is absurd," he added.

The former Tory leader, who stood down in December, said Iran was a "very tough issue" but there was "broad agreement" that the issue should "go to the UN".

Speaking at his weekly Commons question time, Mr Blair said Iran's decision to resume its nuclear activities is likely to result in a referral to the UN Security Council.

He said Tehran's move had caused real and serious alarm across the world.

Mr Blair said European ministers meeting in Berlin on Thursday would decide how to proceed

He told MPs of his "deep dismay" over Iran's decision to break the seals at its nuclear facility at Natanz, calling the situation "very serious indeed".

Conservative leader David Cameron told Mr Blair: "The aim we all share here is non-proliferation.

"But isn't it the case that Iran has not only taken steps repeatedly to acquire nuclear weapons but has also made very damaging and threatening remarks about the future of Israel?

"Doesn't that underline the case for stepping up our efforts to encourage pluralism, a civic society and a liberal and progressive culture in Iran itself?"

'Human spirit'

Mr Blair said "immediate steps" such as going to the UN were needed to protect international security.

But, he added that "the best long-term security for us is the spread of freedom and democracy and values that all civilised people share.

Sept 2002: Work begins on Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr
Dec 2002: Satellite photographs reveal nuclear sites at Arak and Natanz; Iran agrees to an IAEA inspection
Sept 2003: IAEA gives Iran weeks to prove it is not pursuing atomic weapons
Nov 2003: Iran suspends uranium enrichment and allows tougher inspections; IAEA says no proof of any weapons programme
June 2004: IAEA rebukes Iran for not fully co-operating with nuclear inquiry
Nov 2004: Iran suspends uranium enrichment as part of deal with EU
Aug 2005: Iran rejects EU proposals and resumes work at Isfahan plant
Jan 2006: Iran removes seals at Natanz facility

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