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Proliferation in Parliament

Back to Proliferation in Parliament, Summer 2009

Westminster Parliament

Middle East

Oral Questions and Debates

Written Questions

Middle East

Oral Questions and Debates

Global Security (Iran), Westminster Hall Debate, 9 July 2009 : Column 321WH

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to introduce this debate on the Foreign Affairs Committee report, “Global Security: Iran”, which was published in February 2008, and the Government’s response, which was published in May 2008. Although those documents were published some time ago, many of our conclusions are unfortunately still pertinent. This is a good opportunity for the House to have a three-hour debate on Iran...

9 July 2009 : Column 326WH

I am conscious of time and that there are many Members here. I shall not delay them for too long, but there is one other area that I wish to highlight. No doubt other Members will talk about the Iranian role in the region, but clearly there has been a great deal of concern about the nuclear issue and the way in which Iran has been breaching its obligations under the International Atomic Energy Agency and the non-proliferation treaty. Our report was published in 2008 and much has happened since then. However, fortunately the Committee is very busy and, on 14 June, we published a major report entitled “Global Security: Non-Proliferation,” in which we were able at least briefly to provide an update on what has been happening with that matter in Iran.

Developments in recent months have clearly shown that there is a growing concern within the IAEA that the Iranian regime is rapidly building centrifuges in order to develop enriched uranium. The Russians tried to bring in an international system whereby Iran could access that via an international facility, and there have been other suggestions about having some kind of fuel bank, including from our Prime Minister in his important speech at Lancaster House in March. I would be grateful if the Government said where we are on the implementation of alternatives, and whether Iran has indicated any kind of positive response. Frankly, as we have pointed out in previous reports, in the next few years Iran could be very close to having the breakout capability to possess a nuclear weapon, and because it has missile technology, that could pose a potential threat to southern Europe and a large number of countries in the middle east.

If Iran becomes a nuclear weapon state, it is not just the Israelis who will be very concerned. As we point out in our non-proliferation report, such a situation would

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also be a trigger for a number of Arab countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others, to get what could be regarded as a Sunni bomb in the middle east, as opposed to the Shi’a bomb that the Iranians might develop. Given that Pakistan already has a developed nuclear weapons capability and has tested nuclear weapons—as we know through the A.Q. Khan network, unfortunately, it has also been prepared to sell nuclear material and plans to other countries—there is a real danger that a cycle of nuclear weapon proliferation in the middle east could be triggered by Iranian actions in the next few weeks or months.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): That is the crux of the problem with Iran at the moment. Does my hon. Friend agree that, given all the other terrible things that are happening—we had a good debate yesterday on the human rights issues—until we can sort out the nuclear question with Iran, it will be a very dangerous regime? There must be some inducements that we can offer it to separate the nuclear energy programme from nuclear weaponry.

Mike Gapes: Iran’s regime is dangerous because it feels under threat from its own people and is worried about its survival. It also has fears about the future and legitimacy of its revolution. An interesting question is whether the new US approach is more threatening to the regime than the old one. It could be argued that people in authoritarian, theocratic regimes would much prefer the rest of the world to cut them off rather than be open to them, because sheer openness will mean that the people of the country get more access to ideas and ways of behaving that challenge the orthodoxy and hierarchy of the society. My impression is that the Iranian people certainly have a thirst for contact and communication with the rest of the world, not a desire to be cut off from it.

That raises some interesting questions about how the US under the Obama presidency will behave. So far, there seem to be some interesting developments. Only this week, both President Obama and Vice-President Joseph Biden said, in separate interviews, that despite the crackdown and repression, the US will not be deterred from seeking to engage in direct negotiations with Iran. That is the right approach, but we should have no illusions that engagement with people in the regime and with its leadership will, by itself, change the regime’s behaviour. “Change in regime behaviour”, which I believe is a phrase used by Condoleezza Rice in a different context, is not at all certain in a period when the regime is afraid that even a small opening up—a small movement—could result in a great crevice and then an outpouring in the country of forces it is afraid of and wishes to repress.

President Obama stated:

“We’ve got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community.”

However, that requires the international community to maintain certain standards and values, and to continue to speak out against the repression and abuse of human rights taking place in Iran, and not to say that it would

9 July 2009 : Column 328WH

much rather concentrate solely on nuclear or trade issues. At the end of the day, there are international standards. Iran is a signatory to various international covenants and the non-proliferation treaty, and it must be held to those standards...

9 July 2009 : Column 328WH

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): ...

I begin with the crux of the long-term issue between our country and most of the countries of the world and Iran: Iran’s remorseless march, year by year, towards becoming a nuclear weapons state. That march seems to be going down two tracks. It is going down the highly enriched uranium track, and it may also be going down the plutonium track. Alongside its efforts to produce weapons-grade fissile material, Iran is substantially adding to its ballistic missile delivery capabilities.

On page 13 of our report, we reproduce a map showing the range of Iran’s Shahab 3 Korean technology-based missile. It has a 1,300 km range, making it capable of striking Israel, Saudi Arabia, parts of southern Russia and nearly the whole of Turkey. A few weeks ago, on 20 May, the Iranians successfully launched their indigenous, longer range 2,000 km ballistic missile, the Sajil 2, which uses solid rather than liquid propellant, which dramatically reduces its launch time scale. That missile will be capable of reaching a significant area of western and southern Europe.

I noted a comment that was made in Jane’s Intelligence Weekly on 1 June:

“Western analysts have largely described the Sajil-2 to the media as a technological achievement that represents a leap in Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities.”

There is no question but that if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon capability with its expanding ballistic missile delivery range, the consequences would be extremely serious. There would be the regional consequences of an impetus to proliferation, and, of course, the huge, unknown factor of the Israeli response.

9 July 2009 : Column 329WH

The Committee visited Israel in March, at the time of the formation of the Netanyahu Government. We asked senior Israeli officials what the Israeli reaction would be if Iran became a nuclear weapons state. The answer we got—that all options are open—was fairly predictable. I believe that that is a correct statement: all options are open as far as Israel’s Government are concerned, particularly the Netanyahu Government. That of course means that military pre-emptive action is among the options on the Israelis’ list, and the consequences of that are incalculable and potentially extremely serious.

That brings us to the effectiveness or otherwise of the policy that is being pursued year by year by our Government, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council—a policy of trying to bring about a halt in Iran’s remorseless march towards becoming a nuclear weapons state by peaceful means: pressure, coercion, inducement and enticement. On the evidence to date, that policy has been a complete failure. I regret having to say that, but that is what the factual evidence shows. The policy has been pursued year by year by year, and year by year by year Iran has marched remorselessly towards becoming a nuclear weapons state.

My question to the Minister, therefore, is whether he has any serious, significant grounds for believing that the passing of United Nations Security Council resolution 1803 and the greater use of sanctions for which that resolution provides will have any more effect on Iran than previous United Nations Security Council resolutions. Are other peaceful polices open to us that will stop Iran’s relentless march? If the answer is no—I become increasingly fearful that it is—we are approaching an immensely dangerous situation in terms of nuclear proliferation, with the risk that the Israelis will feel that they have to do something by way of pre-emption. That is the burning policy question, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response...

9 July 2009 : Column 333WH

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con):

We need to recognise that the analysis was wrong. We also need to recognise, as the Select Committee report itself hints, the ineffective nature of sanctions. They

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have not had the effect that we would want. Paragraph 13 of the conclusions and recommendations states:

“We conclude that although the sanctions currently in place against Iran act as a disincentive for its nuclear programme, they are not sufficiently robust to coax it into suspending its enrichment.”

That supports the argument made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling when he said that appeasement had not done its job on the nuclear issue.

We have only to read another conclusion in the report to find out about the effectiveness of the E3+3 diplomacy. Paragraph 4 of the conclusions and recommendations states that

“the E3+3’s diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear programme is currently a long way from successfully achieving all its goals.”

The truth is that there are two great findings: the report’s finding that our effort to appease the regime has failed and our sanctions have been ineffective, and the subsequent finding that there is a greater rising of the human spirit in Iran than was ever thought possible before. Whatever we say about the people who came on to the streets, they did us a great service through their courage and endeavours, because never again can it be said that there is no opposition to the regime internally. Of course there is opposition to the regime internally, and we need to take great note of it and encourage those people. If what we believe about freedom and democracy in this country means anything, the need to encourage those people must be paramount.

I am sure that that will be taken into account by the new Minister, whom I welcome to his position. He gives us considerable hope...

9 July 2009 : Column 337WH

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): ...

I believe that the Foreign Office has too often been arrogant on Iran’s dialogue with other key partners. I remember that the Russian Federation tried to explore, in a positive way, the question of Iran and other countries having civil nuclear energy, the full fuel cycle being facilitated at four or five key locations around the globe, which would allow many states, including Iran, to have nuclear energy. However, it would not be done in a way that caused nuclear proliferation or facilitated the preparation of nuclear weapons or warheads in a particular country. To my knowledge, that was dismissed by the Foreign Office. It does such things time and again as a result of its phobia and its attitude of dismissal to anything suggested by the Russian Federation. Latterly, that idea was picked up by the Foreign Office, but it was too late—it missed the window of political opportunity. So my criticism of the Foreign Office is justified because it totally and consistently misread the situation...

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The Government’s response to the point about sanctions can only be described as pretty pathetic. They wrote:

“We judge that the sanctions introduced so far have sent a clear political signal to the Iranian regime.”

A clear political signal—who is the Foreign Office kidding, especially given that, elsewhere in the response, it acknowledges that Iran is also facilitating the deaths of our armed forces personnel?

In an Adjournment debate this year, I described to the House of Commons how the UK had facilitated the transfer of funds from Iran, through London, to the United States to deceive the US regulatory authorities, so that the Iranian regime, under cloak and dagger, could purchase in north America technologies that it needed both to develop its nuclear side and—I believe—nuclear weapons, and to get around the existing US and EU sanctions regimes. The Government were seriously embarrassed. The particular perpetrator to which I am referring is Lloyds TSB, but other London-based banking institutions were also involved. Under the financial arrangement known as “stripping”, there was a deliberate intent in London to deceive the US authorities. When I mentioned this to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, he did not argue that I was wrong, but said instead that the ground rules in London and the European Union had been altered. Again, that demonstrates the charge that we have been doing too little, too late; that we have appeased; that we have been asleep on the job. None the less, we have the audacity to say that other countries are not being resolute and strong in homing in on those who export terrorism and other things that involve loss of life around the world...

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Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): ...

I would like to pay tribute to the European powers. The Foreign Office has been given a tough time throughout the debate, but it had to walk the line when no one knew whether the Americans were going to take the neo-con view of Mr. Bolton, or what view the Iranian regime, which swapped personalities in the same way, would take.

Interestingly, when we nearly got to a resolution on the nuclear issue, it fell apart on both sides of the table. The deputy Secretary of State of the United States left, and in came Mr. Bolton with his neo-con view of the world; off went Mr. Larijani and into the Iranian regime came someone of whom we had never heard...

9 July 2009 : Column 346WH

We have heard sanctions mentioned as the option. I have a deep suspicion of sanctions, not because I do not think that they work—they do, in the right places—but because of Iran’s trading partners, such as Japan, China and Russia. The challenge that Britain, America and France face is that no one else is playing ball. The missiles being fired and tested from Iran are potent not because they go up and down—North Korea does the up-and-down bit—but because of where they land. The guidance systems in the missiles are sold to the Iranians by the Chinese. The systems in the land missiles that could close down the straits of Hormuz and the missiles fired from Lebanon by Hezbollah that hit an Israeli frigate were Chinese. The Chinese have sold $7 billion worth of arms to Iran since 2000. People are not playing ball.

Russia just re-fitted two of Iran’s submarines. Actually, they were not very good, so the Iranians sent them back to be done again. The Russians are trading with Iran, as are the Germans and Italians. A few months ago, the Italian Foreign Minister encouraged Italians to do more business with Iran. What the Iranians see in that is a split, weak European and western coalition that does not work. If sanctions do not work and the Supreme Leader believes that they are a good thing for maintaining the purity of the country—he has said so in many speeches—how much effect will they have on the regime?

If we could not prevent North Korea, Pakistan and other countries from developing the bomb, one must ask how effective we are and whether we are putting our effort in the right place. Should we not be rattling the stick at the other partners in the world to ensure that we have proper sanctions? Of course we are angry with the Iranian regime, but our resources should be spent on persuading China, Russia and the European Union to get on with it and stop sitting on the fence. The question of sanctions constantly undermines us.

Interestingly, Oman, one of Britain’s partners in the gulf, recently signed a security pact with Iran. On one hand, Britain is about to sell two new frigates to Oman, but on the other, Oman has just signed a security pact with Iran. Where are we going? We need to ensure that we have a united voice and put a lot of effort into getting there. I do not believe in regime change through the MEK or terrorist organisations. That would take us to the wrong place, as the example of Iraq shows. Relying on intelligence is often unreliable.

There are challenges for us. We must send a message to the Iranians not to underestimate us. Just because they can capture a few sailors in a boat and break our sanctions, they should not underestimate the sleeping lion that is Britain. We should be funding our armed forces—our stick. We have a carrot and a stick. We have offered a lot of carrot, but our stick looks weak and underfunded. Our armed forces are being cut. We cannot tell Iran that we have a stick with any credibility when we do not have enough aeroplanes. We need to be strong in saying that we have a stick, but offer carrots to demonstrate that we understand how Iran works and not just how we want it to work.

9 July 2009 : Column 348WH

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): ...

Whatever the outcome of the election, the nuclear issue would not have gone away because there was consensus on it among the candidates. Although we should watch the developments with the election, the bigger issues were always going to remain. The nuclear issue is one of the greatest foreign policy challenges faced by the world.

I agree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) that the regime acts in a fairly rational way. If one puts oneself in the shoes of the Iranians, it is clear that there are many reasons why they should pursue a nuclear weapons capability. In the same region, Israel has nuclear arms and there is no love lost between the two states. There is also an issue of status and the desire to be seen as a world player. The threat has diminished with the Obama regime, but when Bush was in power there was a real prospect of an American invasion, especially considering what happened in Iraq. We need to recognise and understand that reality if we are to reduce the danger.

The Select Committee’s subsequent report on non-proliferation is welcome. Worryingly, it states that there has been rapid progress in Iran towards further enrichment and the expansion of centrifuges. We do not know what stage the process is at, or how many months or years away the Iranians are from acquiring a nuclear capability. There is a danger that if that happened, it would have a domino effect in a region where there are already heightened tensions. The next steps after Iran obtains a nuclear weapon do not bear thinking about. The potential disasters are immense. Other middle eastern states might want to acquire nuclear weapons. Given that we want to stop nuclear proliferation and reduce nuclear capabilities across the globe, Iran’s nuclear programme is very worrying. We have not done ourselves any favours by committing to replacing Trident when there was no need to do so, given the lifespan of the current submarines. Doing that just before going to the 2010 non-proliferation conference seems bizarre. Surely, we want to go to that conference being able to negotiate and say that our nuclear weapons are on the table.

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I am sure that the hon. Lady would not want to give the impression internationally that there is an equivalence between British foreign policy in any respect and the actions of the Iranian Government. That would be extremely damaging and I am sure she is not trying to do that, but it is important to make that clear in this debate.

Jo Swinson: I do not think for a second that I was making that link. I am saying that our position in non-proliferation talks around the world will surely be stronger if we are prepared to talk about reducing our nuclear weapons arsenal. That would give us much more power in negotiations. Surely, if it looks as though

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the main nuclear players are reducing their arsenals, that will reduce the pressure on countries such as Iran and others that are thinking of going nuclear to try to join the club, as it were. We have seen the success of such a strategy with President Obama’s decision to put American nuclear weapons on the table in discussions with Russia. In a sense, the best possible and only positive way of using nuclear weapons is to use them to negotiate away other nuclear weapons.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre asked what we should do, and that question was well posed. We can discuss the problems and say what the difficulties are, but what are the real options? The Committee has said of the military option:

“We remain of the view that such a military strike would be unlikely to succeed and could provoke an extremely violent backlash across the region.”

I strongly agree, because I think that that would be a dangerous road to go down. I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has said that he is 100 per cent. behind the diplomatic track, although I note that the Government have not entirely ruled out the possibility of supporting a future US military strike. That would be dangerous territory and we should not go down that route: it would strengthen the position of the extremists and is not the right way forward.

So, we then look at the sanctions regime, which, as has been discussed, is not working well. A united approach from the E3 plus 3 is vital to that regime, but the approach is not as united as we might want, because of the loopholes that exist. We must continue and increase our efforts to encourage countries such as Russia and China to recognise the threat and to play ball—to borrow a phrase. As I have said, Obama’s overtures to Russia are good news, such as his offer to scrap the “Son of Star Wars” project if the Russians help him in halting Iran’s proliferation. Russia is a key player, and it would be great if we could get its help in getting Iran to negotiate, and in making progress. We have to accept that the UK’s influence in this matter is not at its peak, given the current diplomatic situation, and that it might best be used in looking at what influence other countries can bring to bear.

9 July 2009 : Column 352WH

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con):

Our interest is not in Iran changing its regime—whatever we might think of it—but in trying to secure changes to Iran’s behaviour, both domestically in terms of respect for human rights and, critically for this debate, in how Iran conducts its foreign policy within its region and more generally. Iran’s nuclear programme must be at the centre of our concerns. Before this debate, I read through the most recent IAEA report, which was published on 5 June and was based on an inspection carried out on 19 May this year. The report demonstrated that Iran still refuses to co-operate fully with what the international inspectors require. In a letter of 3 May this year, Iran informed the agency that it would not permit “design information verifications” at the Iran nuclear research reactor. Iran refused to grant the IAEA access to reactor 40 for the Iranian Government’s own reasons . The IAEA concluded that that

“could adversely impact the Agency’s ability to carry out effective safeguards at that facility”.

In addition, Iran made it difficult for the agency to report further on the construction of the reactor, despite that having been requested by the United Nations Security Council. I could go on to provide a significantly longer list of details from that report.

As with other countries who are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty, the NPT gives Iran the right to develop a civil nuclear programme. However, I want to be confident in a way that I am not at the moment that the international community can trust Iran to develop a civil nuclear energy programme and to observe all the requirements of the NPT. Iran’s renunciation of the additional protocol and its refusal to co-operate with the international inspectors is set against the background of a nuclear programme that was begun and developed covertly, which is itself a breach of treaty requirements, and that will inevitably perpetuate mistrust.

If the Iranian programme goes ahead, hon. Members have talked about there being a threat of nuclear proliferation in the middle east and about Israel perceiving that there is an existential threat to its very survival. However, it is not only Iran’s nuclear programme that should concern us...

9 July 2009 : Column 353WH

It seems that the objectives of British policy must be to try to secure a satisfactory outcome to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme but also to try to bring about, through diplomatic means, a system of regional security and co-operation in which Iran is willing to play a constructive rather than a malign role, but a system in which Iran’s genuine national interests are also recognised.

The problem that we have is one that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre referred to, which is the limited number of policy options that, in reality, are available to the United Kingdom. Despite what has happened in the past few weeks, I still believe that President Obama’s approach is the right one. There is an enormous prize to be won through engagement—that of deflecting Iran from a nuclear weapons programme—and it carries with it a prize for the Iranian people of engagement with the outside world and modernisation of their economy, and even a prize for the regime in the form of the end of regime change as a suspected objective of United States policy...

On the nuclear issue, it seems that we need to persuade Iran, if we can, to accept suspension of its enrichment programme, although I think that that will be extraordinarily hard if not impossible to achieve, given the public statements made by so many Iranian leaders. If that fails, we may have to deal at some time in the next few years with the reality of an Islamic republic that has achieved control of the nuclear fuel cycle but which has perhaps stopped short of a weapons programme. If that is the world in which we find ourselves, would we be able to interpose between that stage and breakout to weaponisation some system of checks and warnings that would provide at least a measure of regional security?

Finally—this is the worst-case option—are the Foreign Office and other parts of the Government thinking about what to do if we wake up one day and find that

9 July 2009 : Column 354WH

we are confronted with an Iran that has nuclear weapons, in the way that North Korea and Pakistan now have nuclear weapons? It is not too early for policy makers in Britain, elsewhere in Europe and in America to be drawing up contingency plans and thinking through policy options in such circumstances.

For the time being, the main policy option, however imperfect, seems to be economic sanctions. I find it frustrating that the Prime Minister spoke well over a year ago in a Mansion house speech about new sanctions being imposed at European level on oil and gas investment and on export credit guarantees, but that they have still not been agreed by the EU. In fact, the converse is true: some two thirds of Iran’s foreign trade is with EU countries.

There are more measures that we could take on finance, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) suggested, and I would hope that in the wake of what happened in the presidential elections, we would also look at trade with Iran in information technology. I was disturbed to read reports that the software that was used to filter and monitor internet and mobile traffic within Iran after the elections, and to make life difficult for the demonstrators and the opposition, was supplied by Siemens. I do not know whether that is true, but it was reported in the US by quite serious sources. I hope that the EU will at least review its policy and see whether it needs to tighten up controls on that type of trade.

Looking further ahead, if President Obama’s outstretched hand does not meet with the kind of response that we would hope for, if Iran continues to press forward with its nuclear programme, we will have to look at sanctions that go even further and which would have the effect of isolating Iran as completely as possible from the normal contacts of the global economy.

My final point is that if we are starting to think about how the international community would deal with an Iran that had obtained control of the nuclear fuel cycle or worse, we would need to be looking also at very public security guarantees. They would be primarily from the US rather than European powers, but clear, unmistakable security guarantees, not just to Israel but to several Arab countries, would be essential to try to prevent nuclear proliferation in this fragile and tense region of the world, which I believe is the nightmare that we all wish to avoid.

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis):

Any positive progress on the nuclear issue is likely to come through tough diplomacy, which can only proceed if Iran is prepared to accept, clearly and unequivocally, its international obligations. The UK and the wider international community remain deeply concerned about the Iranian nuclear programme. Five United Nations Security Council resolutions require Iran to suspend enrichment, co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and answer outstanding questions about the nature of its programme. The Prime Minister made it clear on 17 March that Iran has a right to civil nuclear power, but to claim what is rightfully available to it, Iran must recognise and act on the obligations to which it has committed itself under the non-proliferation treaty. However, Iran continues to refuse to meet those obligations and is ignoring the Security Council.

As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, it is abundantly clear that Iran is not meeting its obligations, and the latest report from the director general of the IAEA also makes that clear. Iran is still not co-operating fully with the agency or granting the access that it seeks and is required. The IAEA made it clear that Iran is increasing its enrichment capabilities, which is totally contrary to the Security Council’s requirements, and confirmed that Iran has still not answered questions about the possible military dimensions of its programme. We simply cannot have confidence in the intentions of a country that acts in that way.

The Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, which was the trigger for today’s debate, argued at the time for a significant change in US policy towards Iran. It is a visionary Committee, and we have now seen the change advocated by the report. I am sure that President Obama and his senior personnel pored over the report. The Select Committee urged the American Administration to adopt an entirely different position. President Obama’s Administration have made it abundantly clear that they will engage directly with Iran, and play a full role in all diplomatic efforts. That has undoubtedly reinvigorated the E3 plus 3 diplomatic process. US involvement fundamentally changes what is available to Iran if it co-operates, but as yet, sadly and regrettably, Iran has made no positive response to the renewed E3 plus 3 invitation to enter into negotiations on the nuclear programme.

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I emphasise three points. First, the onus is on Iran and now is the time to take positive steps towards taking up the E3 plus 3's offer. The E3 plus 3 have reaffirmed their commitment to the diplomatic process; the US has made it clear that it will play a full role in talks; and the international community has fully recognised Iran's right to civil nuclear power. We cannot and should not allow Iran to make the same old arguments to delay talks. Those historic arguments are simply no longer valid.

Secondly, the offer to negotiate will not be on the table indefinitely. The US has made it clear that the hand will not be outstretched for ever. We should not be prepared to wait and wait for an answer from Iran while it advances its nuclear plans. That is not acceptable.

Thirdly, Iran cannot expect a decision not to respond positively to the E3 plus 3 to be cost free. The implications of recent events for progress on the nuclear issue are not yet clear, but it is clear that we must see positive steps from Iran very soon. It is also clear that hard-headed diplomacy may be needed to reach the destination to which we remain 100 per cent. committed—a diplomatic resolution to the issue that assures us of Iran's intentions in its nuclear programme.

The regional consequences of Iran’s actions are crucial to peace and stability in the middle east, which is why it is so important to UK interests. Iran seeks respect on the world stage and a position of influence in its region. It claims that it wants and is working for a secure and stable middle east. The UK believes that Iran does indeed have legitimate interests in the middle east, and we want a secure and prosperous Iran pursuing its legitimate interests in the region constructively and co-operatively, but its behaviour is often completely at odds with its professed intentions. Its means of attaining influence often entirely undermine its rhetoric and claims to respect.

For example, Iranian rhetoric claims that only Iran cares for the Palestinian people and for attaining a secure and peaceful future for them, but it directly undermines those claims by maintaining a policy to arm and support Hamas, Hezbollah and other Palestinian terrorist and rejectionist groups. That is what Iran believes is in the interests of its own regime security, but it is not in the interest of peace and security for the region. It is wrong. It is also wrong that the President of Iran engages in anti-Semitic comments and denial of the holocaust, and makes frequent statements suggesting that the state of Israel should be wiped off the map. That is inconsistent with Iran’s claim to want stability and peace in the middle east...

Iran, Foreign & Commonwealth Oral Questions, 30 Jun 2009 : Column 146, Excerpts

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): As the Foreign Secretary correctly says, it is a matter for the people of Iran to choose their own Government, but it is also a matter for the rest of the world that President Ahmadinejad exports anti-Semitism, exports fundamentalist terrorism, that he may, if he gets nuclear weapons, export some of those, and that he also exports regional instability. We must be much firmer and actually call this gentleman for what he is.

David Miliband: I take my right hon. Friend’s comment in the spirit in which it was intended. There has been disgust not just across this House but across the international community at the anti-Semitic remarks President Ahmadinejad has made in recent weeks and years. However, one thing that has become clear in the last few weeks in respect of other aspects of my right hon. Friend’s question is that all power does not reside in the presidential office in Tehran: the role of the supreme leader is absolutely critical, not least on the nuclear file. It is therefore very important that we not only make clear our own views, but also understand the different layers of governance that exist in the Islamic Republic of Iran...

Mr. Hague: Let us look ahead on this matter. Given the failure in the past to agree meaningful European sanctions with real bite on Iran on the issue of its nuclear programme—that has been illustrated by the fact that oil and gas sanctions announced by the Prime Minister 18 months ago were never implemented—is it not vital to start work across the European Union during the rest of this year on the serious economic penalties that ought to follow if Iran does not enter into negotiations on its nuclear programme by the end of the year? Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to send a strong message to other European capitals that although we all want to see a positive Iranian response to President Obama, if no meaningful progress is made by the end of the year, it will be necessary for the EU to take a dramatically hardened stance and demonstrate the will that has eluded it in the past?

David Miliband: I genuinely say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am disappointed by the first half of his question. He said that no meaningful sanctions with

30 Jun 2009 : Column 149

bite were being imposed by the European Union, but for the record I should point out that the sanctions imposed by the EU as a result of Iran’s flouting of the United Nations Security Council go beyond, and well beyond in a number of respects, the requirements of the Security Council. To portray the situation as one where there is a lonely voice on the Opposition Benches calling for tough sanctions in respect of the Iranian nuclear programme —[Interruption.] —and similar voices on the Government Benches against those of 26 recalcitrant European colleagues says more about his attitude towards his European colleagues than it does about the reality of the situation. This is not a matter where he needs to bring his Europhobia to bear, because there is a strong and united view among a number of countries in Europe on it and there is unanimous support for the actions that have been taken by the European Union. We will need to go further; private work needs to be done on the when and the how, but I should emphasise the word “private”.

Written Questions

Iran, Written Questions, 30 Jun 2009 : Column 184W

Mr. Gauke: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of developments in Iran’s nuclear programme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ivan Lewis: We remain deeply concerned about its nuclear programme. As the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran made clear, Iran is still not co-operating fully with the agency and is increasing its enrichment capabilities contrary to the requirements of five UN Security Council Resolutions. We have made clear that Iran can enjoy the benefits of nuclear energy but must reassure the international community that its intentions are exclusively peaceful.

Iran: Sanctions, Written Questions, 3 Jun 2009 : Column 514W

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 6 May 2009, Official Report, column 172W, on Iran: sanctions, what his policy is on the length of time Iran will be given to respond in a positive way before further steps are taken.

3 Jun 2009 : Column 515W

David Miliband: Following a meeting of officials from the E3+3 on 8 April 2009, EU High Representative Javier Solana contacted Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to invite Iran to meet with the E3+3.

Iran has yet to respond to the E3+3’s invitation. While we remain committed to engagement, we are also clear that the window of opportunity for Iran to take positive steps is not open-ended. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/

Israel: Nuclear Weapons,Written Questions, 20 May 2009 : Column 1424W

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether matters in respect of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability and regional non-proliferation opportunities were discussed at his meeting with his Israeli counterpart on 13 May 2009 in London.

Caroline Flint: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not discuss these matters with Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman during their meeting on 13 May 2009.

Banks: Iran, Written Questions, 18 May 2009 : Column 1176W

Mr. Hague: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps his Department has taken to implement the provisions in UN Security Council Resolution 1747 of 2007 on the prevention of new grants, financial assistance and concessional loans to the Government of Iran, other than for humanitarian and developmental purposes.

David Miliband: In line with paragraph seven of UN Security Council Resolution 1747, adopted on 24 March 2007, the Government make available no new grants, financial assistance or concessional loans to the Government of Iran.

Iran: Nuclear Power, Written Questions, 14 May 2009 : Column 920W

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were last able to visit the Iranian nuclear sites at (a) Arak, (b) Natanz and (c) Bushehr; and if he will make a statement.

David Miliband: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board Report of 19 February 2009, agency inspectors last visited the Heavy Water Research Reactor at Arak in August 2008 and the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in December 2008.

The same report says that at Natanz the agency conducted a physical inventory verification at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant on 29 September 2008 and at the Fuel Enrichment Plant on 24-26 November 2008. It also states that since March 2007 the IAEA has carried out 21 unannounced inspections at the latter plant.

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the written ministerial statement of 5 May 2009, Official Report, columns 4-7WS, on General Affairs and External Relations Council, what reports he has received on (a) the recent contacts between High Representative Solana and Iranian representatives and (b) the outcome of those discussions.

David Miliband: Following the meeting of officials from the E3+3 on 8 April, High Representative Solana spoke to Saeed Jalili, Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator, regarding further talks with the E3+3.

In a statement on 22 April 2009, Iran announced its “readiness for talks and constructive interaction.” No date has yet been fixed and we urge Iran to act in this window of opportunity to rebuild the confidence of the international community and enter into negotiations with the E3+3.

Iran: Nuclear Power, Written Questions, 12 May 2009 : Column 689W

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for East Londonderry of 23 March 2009, Official Report, column 29W, on Iran, what his policy is on revisions to June 2008 E3+3 offer to Iran; and what recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on this matter.

David Miliband: The E3+3 offer of June 2008 remains on the table and would provide Iran with everything it needs for a modern civil nuclear power programme as well as a range of economic and political benefits.

The fundamental approach of the E3+3 has not changed. The E3+3 made clear on 8 April 2009 that it is fully committed to the dual-track strategy of pressure and engagement. Our objective remains the suspension of the Iranian nuclear programme as a prerequisite before full negotiations can take place.

The decision of the US Administration to play a full part in future E3+3 negotiations with Iran presents Iran with a window of opportunity. If Iran suspends its nuclear enrichment programme and enters into talks, we can discuss the details of the offer in more detail. Iran has not yet taken any such steps. Iran should not expect the offer to be open-ended.

I have met Secretary of State Clinton on a number of occasions to discuss the US review of its Iran policy. Our most recent meeting was on 2 April 2009. Our officials are also in regular contact.

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