INTERVIEWER:
Embroiled in a war in Iraq which is increasingly unpopular among Americans, facing difficulties with Iran and with the Hamas Government elected by the Palestinians George W Bush gave a State of the Union speech last night in Washington which was bound to echo around the world.

We’ll talk now to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw but let’s hear what the President said. First of all on Iran.

PRESIDENT BUSH [CLIP]:
: The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon and that must come to an end.

The Iranian Government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.

INTERVIEWER:
Well that was the President on Iran.

Let’s come straight to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Mr Straw, good morning.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Good morning.

INTERVIEWER:
Listening to what the President said there he said that Iran is supporting terrorism in the Palestinian territories i.e. Hamas which has just been elected to power, he said he wanted the people to prevail against the regime. What are we to read in to that?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well first of all it’s absolutely true Iran has long supported both Hamas and the Hezbollah and there’s some suggestion they’re also supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The very first meeting I ever had with an Iranian Foreign Minister Colonel Kharazi, now over four years ago, I expressed very serious concern about Iran’s continued support for these terrorist organisations at the same time as they were demanding actually successfully of me when I was the Home Secretary that we should ban a terrorist organisation MEK that was working against Iran.

And it is essential if Iran really wants to come out of the cold in to the fold of the international community that it ends its support for organisations they say are freedom fighters but which frankly are terrorist organisations. And their continued support not for Hezbollah as a political organisation but for Hezbollah in the Lebanon as a milit, the military side of it is not helping at all stability in the Lebanon, and more seriously their support for Hamas, and it’s their celebration of terrorist activities by Hamas and other terrorist organisations, is certainly not in any way going to help either the Palestinians or the cause of peace in the Middle East.

INTERVIEWER:
We’ll come to the Hamas Government which is going to be established in a moment. But on Iran itself is there any sign at all that the kinds of things that you just said there and others have been saying in recent days are having any effect?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well not directly in terms of the rhetoric that is used by the Iranians. What is the case, as I think you are well aware, is that two nights ago (indistinct) until the very small hours of the morning yesterday morning the five Foreign Ministers of the Permanent Five of the United Nations in Germany worked very hard on a very important agreed statement of our position where we called on Iran to restore in full the suspension of their nuclear enrichment related activity including research and development. And we also said that this week’s extraordinary IAEA board meeting which is going to be held tomorrow and Friday should report to the Security Council its decisions on the steps required of Iran and that any action by the Security Council should await a further report from the March meeting of the board of governors.

I saw the Foreign Minister of Iran, a Mr Mottaki, yesterday at the very successful Afghanistan conference, which we held in Lancaster House in London. I’m due to see him for a separate meeting this morning and what I shall be saying to him is that he really needs to see this agreed position by the leaders of the international community not as a threat but as an opportunity, but a final opportunity, for Iran to put itself back on track... absolutely certainly being able to produce electricity by nuclear power but on track too for meeting its obligations which it entered in to and says it’s abiding by not to do anything... that could lead to the development of a nuclear weapons capability.

INTERVIEWER:
You’re talking there about persuading the Foreign Minister that you are being constructive although you’ve got an absolute view on its, any hostile nuclear programme that it were to develop.

The trouble is that what President Bush said in his speech last night was this is a regime which is run by clerics who are out of touch with the people, I am speaking to the people of Iran, we hope that you get rid of this regime. Now there’s quite a difference between that approach and the one that you’ve just laid out.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well I mean first of all just bear in mind that the, very difficult history between Iran and the United States...

INTERVIEWER:
Of course.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
... we need to bear it in mind in Europe because you know we didn’t have a four hundred and forty four day siege of the British or the French or the German Embassy but the Americans did have that and many awful things happened too in those circumstances. So that is as it were deep in the psyche of the United States and, and of the American people.

The way in which governance is run in Iran is to put it very gently very complicated and very ambiguous. What you have is essentially two parallel systems of Government. For every democratic institution you have a, an offsetting non democratic religious based institution. You do have a, an elected leader although it ha, it needs to be borne in mind that this elected leader was a candidate in an election where there were originally a thousand, over a thousand candidates had put their names forward and all but I think a dozen or so were barred from standing by a non elected body called the Guardian Council. And then although the Parliament can, indeed does, pass legislation some of that legislation can be overturned by the non elected Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader.

And the Iranians are now saying look there has been a law passed that if we were to refer Iran to the Security Council, at the moment we’re talking about reporting them, not referring them, but if we were to refer Iran to the Security Council Iran would withdraw from what’s called the Additional Protocol or the Non Proliferation Treaty. My point back to them is I think it would be a very bad idea if you were to do that from your own point of view but moreover we understand how the Iranian constitution works, there are plenty of examples in the past, very recent past, where Iranian legislation was overridden by the Supreme Leader. If you wanted to do so you could do that here.

INTERVIEWER:
... no, I understand the point you’re making about how you want to approach them. Let me turn to Hamas on the same theme and, and listen first to what Mr Bush said on that subject last night.

PRESIDENT BUSH [CLIP]:
: So the United States of America supports democratic reform across the broader Middle East. Elections are vital but they’re only the beginning. The Palestinian people have voted in elections and now the leaders of Hamas must recognise Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace.

INTERVIEWER:
Right. Hamas must disarm and recognise Israel. Is it the position of the British Government that you won’t talk to them until they do?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
We’re not talking to them at the moment and... what we have to have from the Hamas is some indication of the direction in which they wish to travel where there is something any sensible that there is to talk about.

What the Quartet has said with our full support is that it is essential that any Government in the Palestinian area recognises Israel and renounces violence, must be committed to... non violence and must accept previous agreements and obligations including the Road Map. Now, if the Hamas leadership say to anybody look we’re willing to start talking about that in appropriate circumstances and ones agreed internationally, you can’t have some private enterprise here, then yes of, of course conversation with Hamas would be sensible but (indistinct) ...

INTERVIEWER:
But of course the truth about, the truth about Hamas as I think you’ve acknowledged is that it’s a, it’s a coalition of interests. There are people there who take quite different views on how in the future they might deal with Israel and surely in order to maximise the influence of those you think are more constructive you need to be engaged with them.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well I don’t think I need a conversation with those who you say are (indistinct) more moderate for them to know what they’ve got to do. They can read the Quartet Statement. The Quartet which includes you know the United States, the United Nations ...

INTERVIEWER:
Yes. FOREIGN SECRETARY: ... the EU and Russia has been very careful and measured indeed in its response to this earthquake in the Palestinian area. The statement agreed only a couple of days ago congratulated the Palestinian people on an electoral process that’s free, fair and secure. So we’re not saying to the electorates you’ve got this wrong. They’ve made their decision, it, it was free and fair and everybody else has to put up with it. But, as I said to you last Saturday, this also places very heavy responsibilities on those who are now (indistinct) able to exercise power, the Hamas leadership.

They know what they need to do. They know that if they want to serve their own people as well as the cause of peace they have to renounce violence, they have to recognise Israel’s right to exist and they have to recognise these previous international agreements. Now if they start to do that those within the organisation, let me just finish...those within the organisation who believe that Hamas should become a moderate Government if they are there can start to find their voice. If they do start to find their voice then of course there is then something for the international community to talk to them about.

INTERVIEWER:
But would, do you think funds to them should be cut off pending that change of policy?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
We’re not in that position at the moment. I mean what this current situation is you’ve got an interim Government being run by Abu Mazen, we don’t want to punish the Palestinian people for the problems we’ve got with Hamas and much of the aid in any event that goes to the Palestinian area goes through non Palestinian Authority organisations like United Nations agencies...

INTERVIEWER:
So that will continue?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
... and that will continue but what the Quartet said, and I quote, ’It is inevitable that future assistance to any Government would be reviewed by donors against that Government’s commitment again to the principles of non violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements’ and that’s the template for working with any new Government.

INTERVIEWER:
The, the whole Middle East story is of course complicated by the Iraq invasion and the feelings about it in the Middle East. Let’s finally just listen to what Mr Bush said about that.

PRESIDENT BUSH [CLIP]:
: In less than three years the nation has gone from dictatorship to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections. At the same time our coalition has been relentless in shedding off terrorist infiltration, clearing out insurgent strongholds and turning over territory to Iraqi security forces.

I am confident in our plan for victory. I am confident in the will of the Iraqi people. I am confident in the skill and spirit of our military fellow citizens we (indistinct) in this fight to win and we are winning.

INTERVIEWER:
President Bush on Iraq.

In a week when a hundredth British soldier has been killed, more than two thousand Americans have been killed, it’s difficult to think of it as something that’s moving towards what the President called victory isn’t it?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Well first of all let me say I listened to your report with those two mothers of very brave service personnel and my heart goes out to them. It is terrible, every death of any service man or woman in Iraq or elsewhere in, in the world, British service men or women, is terrible and we grieve for them.

But I also want to say as someone who has visited Iraq on many occasions, most recently just three weeks ago, that these brave young men and women who’ve lost their lives in Iraq have not died in vain. I have watched that country move from being an awful almost perpetual tyranny under Saddam through to a country which has had three democratic elections in the last year and which is now in the process of forming a genuinely democratic and broad based Government for the first time really ever in its history. That is an astonishing achievement for the Iraqis in which British service men and women and others from around the world, of course not least and above all the Americans, have played a major part.

And to answer one of the mothers on your programme about is there going to be a time scale by which we and other coalition forces leave the country we can not publish today a time scale saying we’re going to leave on, on this date but what we can and are doing is in active discussions about how we draw down our troops on a province by province basis as we and the Iraqi Government are convinced that it is safe for them and for us to do so. And I think we’ll see over the, the next twelve months some good news in that respect and again that will be a further mark of the worthwhile, very profoundly and profoundly important job that all service men and women have done in Iraq to free and to create a better Iraq.

INTERVIEWER:
Jack Straw, thank you very much.