UK ambassador denies meeting Ali Reza Akbari and asking him to spy

Former British envoy to Iran Sir Richard Dalton denies ever meeting executed 'spy' in Tehran or London

Ali Reza Akbari in Tehran, Iran., in 2008 Irna / AP
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Tehran's claims that the former UK ambassador to Iran, Sir Richard Dalton, met Ali Reza Akbari and asked him to spy for the British government were denied in Parliament on Wednesday

Iranian-British dual citizen Mr Akbari was executed on Saturday in Iran after being accused of spying for the British government and MI6.

As calls grow for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be proscribed as a terrorist group, the execution has been called a “direct message to the British government”.

Irna, Iran’s state news agency, claimed Mr Akbari had meetings with an MI6 intelligence officer and Sir Richard.

But former chancellor of the exchequer Lord Norman Lamont of Lerwick said Sir Richard told him he did not recall ever meeting Mr Akbari.

“The Iranian regime has suggested that Sir Richard Dalton, our former ambassador in Iran, was the British keypoint contact with Mr Akbari," Lord Lamont told the upper chamber.

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“Sir Richard Dalton, when I spoke to him 48 hours ago, told me that, to the very best of his knowledge, he’s never ever met Mr Akbari in his life, either here in London or in Tehran.

“Is this not just yet another lie by the Iranian regime designed to impress on the Iranian people the myth that somehow their problems are caused by foreigners rather than their own brutal incompetence?”

Sir Richard said on Sunday that pressure to add the IRGC to the list of banned terrorist organisations might have influenced the timing of Mr Akbari’s killing.

The execution of Mr Akbari, who was the Iranian deputy minister for defence from 2000 to 2005, has been called a “direct message” to the UK government by Labour frontbencher Lord Ray Collins of Highbury.

“The execution of Ali Reza Akbari was a barbaric act of politically motivated murder at the hands of the Iranian regime," said Lord Collins, shadow deputy leader of the House of Lords.

“I’m sure the whole House will express condolences and solidarity with his family at this time.

“Mr Akbari’s execution is a direct message to the British government. Executions are, in the words of Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘state-sanctioned killings’.

“I’m sure the minister knows that he and the government will have the support of all sides of the House and from all parties to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

James Cleverly condemns Iran after British citizen's execution - video

Lords from across the House urged the government to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.

Meanwhile, there were calls from some peers for the Iranian ambassador to the UK to be expelled and diplomatic ties to be severed completely.

“Can I urge the minister to convey back to his Secretary of State the widespread opinion in the Lords that the IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organisation?" said long-time human rights campaigner and independent crossbench peer Lord David Alton.

“What does have to happen before that occurs? What does have to happen before the Iranian ambassador is expelled from this country?”

Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Patrick Cormack urged the government to “sever diplomatic ties” with Iran completely.

But former diplomat Lord John Kerr warned against this, saying: “I would counsel the minister against the advice given by Lord Cormack.

“It is important to retain diplomatic relations with one’s foes — perhaps even more important than with one’s friends.

“Such influences we have may be limited, but if we withdraw our embassy, we bring such influence to an end and we betray our friends in the country in question.”

Foreign Office minister Lord Tariq Ahmad called the execution of Mr Akbari “abhorrent” and acknowledged the “strong feeling” in the Lords that the IRGC should be labelled a terrorist group.

Lord Ahmad, who is minister for the Middle East, assured peers he was aware of the sentiment of the House, and insisted that actions that have been taken so far “don’t preclude” any more, and that the government is looking at all options.

“What is becoming increasingly clear is these abhorrent executions take place on trumped-up charges, often by people who are seeking perhaps in their own good will to provide hope for Iran going into the future, to bring some semblance of normality to the future of the Iranian communities and indeed Iranian people," he said.

"But shockingly, this goes from bad to worse," he said.

Updated: January 19, 2023, 9:57 AM