Today the Iranian people go to the polls for the first time since 2009's controversial reelection of President Ahmadinejad, who is stepping down after completing his maximum of two terms. Of course, with a new President, we all hope that this might usher in a new era of cooperation between Iran and the Free World. Unfortunately, with hundreds of candidates disqualified and all the current Presidential hopefuls part of the ruling establishment and links with Ayatollah Khamenei, it is unlikely that there will be any reforms.
So what should the UK's relationship with Iran be like? There are three things that we need to consider when answering this question.
First, Iran has a nuclear programme. Despite claiming that this is only for industrial, peaceful purposes, they refuse to allow inspections. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed serious concerns about its possible military dimensions, and in their report of November 2011 they stated that Iran was making progress "on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components". William Hague has stated that the programme has "no plausible civilian use". Surely, if Iran did only have peaceful intentions, they wouldn't be trying so secretive and deny full access to the IAEA?
An Iran with nuclear weapons is not like the old nuclear weapons held by countries in the Cold War. MAD (mutually assured destruction) worked because there was a level of sanity.
By contrast, Iran is unstable, expansionist and their leaders have expressed a willingness to use their nuclear weapons.
Iran's desire to wipe Israel off the planet is well known. In 2012, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani stated that while Israel could be obliterated with one bomb, Iran and the Islamic world could survive a nuclear exchange, and that the heavy losses would be worth it for the greater good of destroying Israel.
Second, Iran is the Soviet Union of the Middle East. It supports terrorism, undermines democracy, and is trying to put a halt on the Arab spring in Syria. They continue to supply arms to prop up the Assad regime, and recently sent a further 150 senior Revolutionary Guards to Damascus. This is only worsening a situation that the UN has already described as having reached "new levels of brutality".
The regime is also a well-known backer of terrorism, funding both Hamas and Hezbollah. Unfortunately, their support of Hamas means that the more moderate Fatah movement in the West Bank does not have the authority to take steps towards peace with Israel, even if they have the will. Furthermore, Iranian support of Hezbollah has allowed the organisation to carry out terrorist attacks across the world, most recently in July 2012 where evidence points to Hezbollah being behind a bus bombed in Bulgaria, killing six people.
Third, Iran is a dictatorship that ruthlessly suppresses internal dissent. Human Rights Watch has said that the Iranian Government has undermined any prospect of fairness in the elections. The opposition has said that more than 80 of their supporters were killed in the six months after the last Presidential elections, several of whom were sentenced to death.Two former candidates remain under house arrest. In February, the UN reported an increase in both torture and executions, (including juvenile executions) occurring in Iran. Currently, Human Rights Watch claim that there are ten people in Iran who are at risk of being stoned to death as a punishment for adultery. The ill-treatment of groups like the Bahais has been well documented. The regime is active in cyber-warfare. Google announced this week that there has been a huge increase in phishing attacks in the run up to the Presidential elections.
For all these reasons, Britain is right to stand up to the Iranian regime. We must not forget that Iran paid Iraqi insurgents to kill British soldiers in Iraq.
The Government was right to impose strict financial sanctions on Iran and close Britain's Embassy in Tehran.
It is not for nothing that the EU has also imposed harsh sanctions. Making life difficult for Iran economically is aimed to make the regime think again about their nuclear programme.
But the Free World has to face the possibility that sanctions may fail and that the Iranians may complete the development of a nuclear bomb. If this is the case, NATO and the United States should send a clear message that the world will not stand by waiting for a nuclear Iran. It might be that military action is necessary as a last resort. As John McCain has said "I still say there's only one thing worse than military action against Iran and that is a nuclear-armed Iran".