Emily Thornberry has claimed Labour is unable to back demonstrators protesting against the Iranian government because it is unclear who has ‘the white hats’.
Jeremy Corbyn has been under increasing pressure to speak out over the unrest, which was sparked by economic hardships facing citizens and left more than 20 people dead, with 450 arrested in Tehran.
Downing Street warned Iranian leaders that “Britain was watching” and Thornberry issued a statement earlier this week calling for the authorities to show restraint.
But she told Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast that Labour was unable to speak out in support of the protests because it was unclear who was in the right.
Asked if she had ever been to an event celebrating the Iranian revolution which led to the establishment of the current regime – following reports Corbyn attended one in 2014 – the shadow foreign secretary said: “Our approach now is one of extreme caution when it comes to Iran, and a recognition that the society in Iran is a immensely complex one, and seemingly contradictory.
“For example, with these current riots, sometimes they are…calling to reinstate the monarchy, sometimes they’re calling out against the Khomeni, sometimes they’re calling for Khomeni, sometimes they’re calling for the price of eggs.
“It’s very difficult, in those circumstances to actually come to a conclusion as to what political forces are behind the current disputes on the streets of Iran, so we take a cautious approach.”
The Islington MP said westerners could not “simply impose our views” on other countries.
“We don’t want to leap to judgement and say, well we don’t like the regime in Iran, these people are against it, they must be the guys with white hats, because it doesn’t work like that,” she added.
“We’ve seen that in Syria, we’ve seen it in Libya, we see it time and time again in Egypt…we cannot simply impose our views on people who are fighting against, you know, Mubarak, who we don’t like.”
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has urged Iranian leaders to “debate the legitimate and important issues” raised by protesters.