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Iran

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 31st March 2009.

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Photo of David Jones David Jones Shadow Minister (Wales) 2:30 pm, 31st March 2009

What recent reports he has received on Iran's nuclear programme; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

What his most recent assessment is of Iran's nuclear programme; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report of 19 February shows that Iran continues to refuse to suspend its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and has not granted the IAEA the access that it seeks as required by five UN Security Council resolutions. We, and the international community, will continue to press for Iran to fulfil its international obligations and restore confidence in its intentions.

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Photo of David Jones David Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

Does the Secretary of State agree that while President Obama's recent outreach to Iran is welcome, diplomatic overtures must be backed by a readiness on the part of the United States and the EU to impose such further sanctions as are necessary until such a time as Tehran can demonstrate to the unequivocal satisfaction of the UN inspectorate that it has abandoned its ambitions to develop a military nuclear capability?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enunciation of the policy, which I think has support across the House. It is the so-called dual-track policy, which is that we should seek to engage with Iran, that we should make it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people and that the choice of Government in Iran should be a matter for them. However, whatever the Government in Iran, they need to abide by their international responsibilities. If they refuse to do so, there are costs associated with that decision.

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are responsibilities on the EU and the US, but the responsibilities go wider. The international coalition, which is right to fear an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, goes wider than the EU and the US. Russia, China and the Gulf states have responsibilities, too, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to join me in working to ensure that they are part of a global coalition against an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

With North Korea, it has proved useful to include its neighbours, Japan and South Korea, in the negotiations to discourage it from going down the nuclear weapons route. Should not Iran's neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, be invited by the Security Council to join the negotiations over Iran, especially as the Iranians need to realise that those three countries might themselves go nuclear if Iran ends up as a nuclear weapons state?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

Only up to a point. The multilateral negotiations are not being conducted under a UN framework—the E3 plus 3 is not a UN body, but it is recognised to have a global coalition behind it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might have an important point, which was at the heart of the E3 plus 3 offer agreed under my chairmanship last May in London. It concerns what will happen in the future if Iran ceases its nuclear weapons programme or restores the confidence of the international community that it does not have a nuclear weapons programme. There are important regional political issues about Iran's legitimate interests in the region, but no discussion of those issues can take place without the involvement of the countries that he has mentioned.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and that the best way to prevent any ratcheting up of tensions in the region is to declare our support for a nuclear-free middle east? That would include Israel's having to bring its nuclear weapons to a de-alert status and would help to promote the idea of disarmament throughout the region to bring about stability, rather than the obviously very great danger of the development of an arms race across the region.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

We have done that for a long time. It is important to be clear that through the Iranian programme we face the danger of proliferation and the sort of domino effect described by my hon. Friend. Iran, of course, is a signatory to the NPT. My hon. Friend is right. Inherent in the idea of the drive towards multilateral disarmament, eventually including the global abolition of nuclear weapons—a commitment that every signatory to the NPT makes—is the idea of a drive towards a nuclear weapons-free middle east, too.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

At a meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA in Vienna on 2 March, the director general, Dr. Mohamed el-Baradei, reported, in addition to what the Foreign Secretary has said, that Iran continues to work on heavy water projects and that it declines to implement the additional protocol that is required of it. His recommendation was that a method should be found to find a way through by transferring these activities from national control to multilateral control. How does the Foreign Secretary think that that might be achieved in the short to medium term?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I spoke to director general el-Baradei about that issue when I met him at the Munich security conference. Inherent in the idea that Iran has to win the confidence of the international community that its uranium enrichment programme does not have dual use is the notion that we are open to a range of ideas for multilateral engagement with Iran over a civilian nuclear power programme—a programme that, above all, is destined only for peaceful use.

That is why we have strongly supported Russian support and investment in the civilian Bushehr nuclear power plant. There is a range of options on the table, as long as Iran is clear that it cannot pursue a programme that fails to win the confidence of those of us who believe that anything other than a solely peaceful programme—and one that has the confidence of the international community that it is solely peaceful—is ever going to be able to play any part in stabilising the middle east.

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Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

As well as selling air defence systems to Iran, Russia has continued to block attempts by the west to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. What are the Government doing to ensure that Russia does not continue to block the sanctions process?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. I am sure that he will have seen, as I did, at least a report of the interview that President Medvedev did for the BBC on Sunday, when he stated unequivocally that Russia does not want the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons capacity. That is why Russia has supported successive UN Security Council resolutions to that end.

The hon. Gentleman is also right that it is important to recognise the urgency of the matter and the need to make it clear to the Iranians that the American offer currently being developed and made represents the best chance that Iran will ever have of normalising its relations with the rest of the world, and above all with the US. The whole world can play a role in supporting American outreach in that regard. It is not only for Europeans but for Russians and Chinese as well to make it clear that this is the best chance that Iran will ever have to regularise its relationships with the rest of the region and the rest of the world, but that cannot be done while there is so much concern about its nuclear weapons intentions.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I wish a happy new year to Iranians here and around the world. The Foreign Secretary rightly talks about multilateral engagement with the Government of Iran. Does he agree that part of that process should also be multilateral engagement with the Government of Israel about its nuclear weapons, as that would build confidence among the Iranians that there is an equivalent process there?

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The multilateral basis of engagement with the Iranians is first of all in respect of its NPT obligations. That is why this is an IAEA process, as well as a UN process. The sort of confidence and stability that I know that my hon. Friend wants to see in the middle east can be achieved only if nations abjure the sort of rejectionist rhetoric that has emerged from Tehran, which produces the sort of fears that can lead to a nuclear arms race.

The other thing to say is that not only Israel is worried about an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. If one talks to people from any Arab or Gulf state, one sees that there is a very high degree of concern among them for obvious reasons, given the tinderbox that is always the middle east. The last thing that it needs is a nuclear weapons arms race. In that context, we have a real opportunity, and responsibility, to bring old foes over the Israel-Palestine issue together on the Iranian issue. We believe that it is essential to move forward on the middle east peace process, but we must also recognise that there are also new coalitions to be built on the Iranian nuclear issue.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

A moment ago, the Foreign Secretary spoke about the urgency of the process. Given that it is more than 12 months since the Prime Minister threatened new sanctions on Iranian oil and gas, and nine months since the E3 plus 3 made the offer to transform relations if Iran would suspend enrichment, will the right hon. Gentleman say today how much longer we are prepared to wait before we go back to the EU and the UN to ask for more sanctions? That would clearly show that we are taking both tracks of the dual-track process that he has described with equal energy and determination.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman asked the same question several times last year. I know that he shares the Government's commitments on this matter, but I say to him—in the nicest possible way—that one very big thing has changed since then. For the first time in 30 years there is an American Government who want to open a bilateral channel with the Iranian Government and people. By any stretch of the imagination, that is a big change.

Given that the whole world, as well as the American Government, is committed to seeing that outreach take place— [ Interruption. ] I hear an Opposition Member shout, "How long?" but the Americans have not even completed their review yet, so let us hold our horses about that. It surely makes sense to say that the Americans should complete their review and ensure that the elements of their multilateral and bilateral outreach are clarified for the Iranians. If the Iranians do not respond in a positive way, we can then ensure that further steps are taken. If the hon. Gentleman pauses to think about it, he will recognise that now is not the time to be rushing for more sanctions; instead, now is the time to be backing the American outreach, which is a once-in-a-generation opportunity both for us and for the Iranians.

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