Monday, May 08, 2006

Beckett Takes Straw's Hot Seat for Iran Talks

Jean Eaglesham, The Financial Times:
Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, will fly to New York today for United Nations talks on Iran, taking the aircraft seat booked for Jack Straw, who instead starts work as leader of the Commons - a move widely seen as a demotion.

However, the government rejected suggestions that Mr Straw's replacement by Ms Beckett would signify a hardening of Britain's position against Iran and a shift closer to the White House stance.

Reports that Mr Straw was moved from his post at the instigation of the White House, which was frustrated by his rejection of a potential nuclear strike on Iran as a "nuts" idea, were dismissed yesterday. READ MORE

Gordon Brown said he did "not accept" the White House theory. The UK line on Iran remained that set out by Tony Blair, with military action not envisaged but not categorically ruled out, the chancellor suggested. This contrasts with Mr Straw's insistence that military action would be inconceivable.

"I agree with what the prime minister said about this, that there are no plans for military action against Iran. We hope that we can get a Security Council agreement," Mr Brown said.

The switch in foreign secretaries is not the only reshuffle move that will raise questions about the direction of government policy.

John Reid, the home secretary, pledged yesterday to ensure there were no more errors made in the fiasco over the failure to consider more than 1,000 foreign former prisoners for deportation.

People "rightly believe that official systems in my new department, paid for by their taxes, shouldn't cock up systemically," he wrote in the News of the World. "They believe the present situation isn't good enough and I agree with them."

But doubts emerged yesterday about whether Mr Reid would be able to carry out the prime minister's pledge to ensure that "anybody who is convicted of an imprisonable offence and who is a foreign national is deported".

Lord Falconer, constitutional affairs secretary, ad-mitted that a minor offence wouldn't remotely justify deportation in every circumstance. Asked how the deportation pledge would work, Lord Falconer told ITV1: "What we need to do is consult fully in relation to that. We need to identify what are the circumstances in which there is deportation."

The Tories seized on the remarks, claiming they showed that Mr Blair's promised new policy was all "spin and bluster".