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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the outcome of the nuclear negotiations with Iran.
In recent days the world has held its breath as the talks between world powers and Iran edged towards a conclusion. They were difficult negotiations and all sides faced tough decisions. In the early hours of yesterday morning, a process that began over a decade ago came to a conclusion. The result is an historic deal, a landmark moment in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, and a victory for diplomacy. The UK, with its partners in the E3+3—China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, with the EU High Representative as our co-ordinator—have at last reached a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme. With the conclusion of these negotiations, the world can be reassured that all Iranian routes to a nuclear bomb have been closed off, and the world can have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian civil nuclear programme going forward.
The origin of these negotiations lies in the revelation some 12 years ago that Iran was concealing nuclear activities, in violation of its international obligations. At that time, Iran—under a different Government—was not willing to meet the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the international community responded with multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The agreement that we have reached does not absolve Iran of blame for its previous activities, and neither does it wipe the slate clean. Instead, it offers Iran the opportunity to draw a line under its past behaviour, and gradually to build the world’s trust in its declarations that it is not pursuing the development of a nuclear weapon. That will not be a quick process, but with the implementation of this deal, it should be possible.
The Government’s purpose in seeking an agreement has always been clear: to secure assurance that Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon. To that end, this agreement imposes strict limits on Iran’s nuclear programme that are comprehensive and long lasting. For 10 years, Iran’s enrichment capacity will be reduced by more than two thirds from current levels. It will enrich uranium only to a level of 3.67%—well below the 90% level of enrichment considered necessary for a nuclear weapon—and its stockpile of low-enriched uranium will be limited to 300 kg, down from more than seven tonnes at present, with the balance exported to Russia. Its research and development activities will be constrained so that it will not be able to enrich with advanced centrifuges for at least 10 years. Additionally, no uranium enrichment, enrichment research and development, or nuclear material will be permitted at Iran’s underground Fordow nuclear site. The agreement also cuts off the plutonium route to developing a nuclear bomb. Iran’s heavy water research reactor at Arak will be redesigned and rebuilt so that it will no longer have the capability to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
Given the historical levels of mistrust that have built up between Iran and the international community, a strong inspections regime and a framework for addressing concerns about past military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme are vital for building trust and providing us with the confidence that Iran is meeting its commitments. Some of the crucial monitoring and transparency measures of this deal will last indefinitely, such as the implementation of the additional protocol to the comprehensive safeguards agreement. The AP for every country allows access to sites about which the IAEA has concerns that cannot be addressed in any other way. Iran is no exception. Iran’s non-proliferation treaty obligation—including the obligation never to acquire or develop nuclear weapons—will apply during and after the period of the deal. We will not hesitate to take action, including the re-imposition of sanctions, if Iran violates its NPT obligations at any time, and our concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme will be addressed. The IAEA and Iran have agreed a “road map” of actions to clarify those issues.
Taken together, those measures mean that if Iran were to renege on its promises and try to “break out” for a bomb, it would take at least 12 months even to acquire the necessary fissile material for a single device. The robust transparency measures that we have agreed mean that we—the international community—would know almost immediately, and we would have time to respond.
In return for implementing those commitments, and as our confidence in Iran’s programme develops over time, Iran will receive phased and proportionate sanctions relief. Initially, there will be relief of EU, US and UN nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, but let me be clear: that sanctions relief will be triggered only once the IAEA verifies that Iran has taken the agreed steps to limit its nuclear programme.
Other core provisions in the existing UN Security Council resolutions will be re-established by a new UN resolution. Important restrictions on the import and export of conventional arms and development of ballistic missiles will be re-imposed through an annex to that resolution, and only lifted later in the agreement. Those relaxations are backed by a robust enforcement mechanism: if there is a significant violation of the nuclear provisions of the agreement, all previous UN sanctions can be re-imposed through a snap-back mechanism, which any party to this agreement can invoke. The EU and the US could also re-impose their own sanctions in such a scenario. Clearly, having made this agreement, it will be strongly in Iran’s interest to comply with the provisions of it to avoid a return to the sanctions regime that has crippled its economy for so long.
We now need to look ahead to the implementation of the agreement. After such a tough negotiation there will inevitably be bumps along the road. We entered into the agreement in good faith, and all sides must try to resolve together any problems in implementing the deal, but the deal includes robust enforcement provisions and we will not hesitate to use them if Iran goes back on its word.
This agreement is focused solely on Iran’s nuclear programme, but its conclusion could have wider positive consequences. By providing the means through sanctions relief for Iran’s economic re-engagement with the world, it will allow the Iranian people to feel the tangible benefits of international co-operation. As that economic re-engagement materialises, we will, of course, seek to assist UK businesses to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise. That assistance would, of course, be enhanced through having a functioning British embassy in Tehran. We remain committed to reopening our embassies in each others’ countries and will do so once we have resolved some outstanding issues.
The deal also has the potential to build a different kind of relationship between Iran and the west, and to change in a positive way the dynamics in the region and beyond. In an atmosphere of developing confidence and trust, there will be an opportunity for Iran to re-align its approach in support of the international community’s efforts, in particular in confronting the shared challenge of ISIL and the resolution of regional crises, such as those in Yemen and Syria, but this will be a process. It will take time. In the meantime, we remain realistic about the nature of the Iranian regime and its wider ambitions. We will continue to speak out against Iran’s poor human rights record and we will continue to work closely with our friends, allies and partners in the region who live with Iranian interference in their neighbourhood. Iran will not get a free pass to meddle beyond its borders.
An Iranian bomb would be a major threat to global stability. That threat is now removed. We and Iran now have a common responsibility to ensure that the wider potential benefits of this deal for the region and for the international community as a whole are delivered. The UK is fully committed to playing its part, and I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement and for setting out the details of this landmark agreement. Let me begin by paying tribute to him, John Kerry, our European and international partners and everyone involved for their efforts in securing a major diplomatic breakthrough.
There has long been consensus among those on the Front Benches that seeking an agreement with Iran was the right thing for the international community to do. We have always supported the twinned approach of sanctions and negotiations, backed up by UN Security Council resolutions, and it is welcome that the talks have reached a conclusion more than 12 years since they first began with the support of, among others, the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.
None of us wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon and no one believes that the world would be a safer place if Iran were ever to acquire one, so it is worth reflecting on how much more grave the world might have looked today if the Foreign Secretary had returned to the House to report that the talks had collapsed without an agreement. We would be facing the almost certain restart of Iran’s nuclear programme, with no means of monitoring or inspection, the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the middle east and greater instability in an already volatile region. That is why it has been right to use the negotiating opportunity that the pressure of sanctions against the Iranian regime has created, and that the process was not rushed in order to get this right. The question now is to ensure that this agreement lives up to the words of the joint statement made yesterday by EU and Iranian Foreign Ministers, namely that it
“is not only a deal but a good deal. And a good deal for all sides”.
Negotiations of this complexity are never easy—that is the nature of diplomacy—but this agreement presents the international community with a real chance to make progress in the right direction, and we should grasp it. The Foreign Secretary has outlined many aspects of the agreement in detail. Let me touch on a number of them.
Iran has reaffirmed, as part of the agreement, that
“under no circumstances will it ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons”.
That is significant, but the world, especially those countries in the region that have particular concerns, will want to see that Iran’s words are matched by its deeds. I therefore welcome the Foreign Secretary’s assurances that thorough and independent inspections are at the heart of this agreement. It is vital that the implementation is based not on faith, but on facts, evidence and verification.
We on the Labour Benches have always said that Iran should have to demonstrate beyond doubt that it is not pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. If realised, the measures outlined in the joint action plan should now enable everyone to see that that is the case. That is essential if this agreement is to command the confidence of world opinion.
Much has been made of the proposals to manage access to particular sites, with a commission to rule on whether inspection requests by the International Atomic Energy Agency are justified. I would therefore be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could provide further detail on how that would work in practice. What assurances were given in Vienna to ensure that that process will not prove to be an obstruction?
On enrichment, it is welcome that Iran has pledged to remove 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium and two thirds of installed centrifuges. There has been much discussion of the numbers and of the timescales involved. As the Foreign Secretary has said, some parts of this deal, such as the arms embargoes, will remain in place for five years, and other restrictions for 10 to 15 years, while other transparency measures will stay in place permanently. Will the Foreign Secretary explain the rationale for those timescales, and are the Government satisfied that they are sufficient?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, although we should be positive about the implementation of the agreement, we must also go into it with our eyes open? If there is a lesson to be drawn from the collapse of the agreed framework negotiated with North Korea by the Clinton Administration in the 1990s, it is that the success of such agreements should be judged not over months, but in years. It is right, therefore, that some sanctions should be removed gradually and only as Iran honours the commitments it has made. Were Iran to violate the terms of the agreement, are the Government satisfied that the provisions for sanctions to snap back are tough enough to block its path to a nuclear weapon?
Does the Foreign Secretary agree with Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, who said yesterday that the deal represents not a ceiling, but a foundation to build on? It is no secret that Iran has been involved for many years in exploiting sectarian tensions in the region, whether through proxy armies or support for terrorist groups. Those issues and difficulties in our own relationship with Iran will not go away overnight, but this agreement presents Iran with an opportunity to play a much more constructive global role, particularly given our shared interest in defeating the threat from ISIL/Daesh.
How confident is the Foreign Secretary that Iran is ready and willing to use this breakthrough to improve its relations with its neighbours? Does he agree that opening up better links with Iran will help the process of reform in that country, which, as the Foreign Secretary has said, needs to include improving its human rights record? On Britain specifically, the Foreign Secretary mentioned ongoing efforts to reopen our embassy in Tehran. When does he realistically expect that to happen?
The phrase, “Working together as an international community”, is well worn, but this moment shows what can be achieved through patience and diplomacy. If history teaches us anything, however, it is that peace is a process, not an event. The Iranian President yesterday called this a new chapter. We all live in hope that it will help lead to a safer and more peaceful world, free of nuclear weapons, and we on the Labour Benches will continue to support all efforts to make that hope a reality.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive tone with which he has approached the announcement, and I thank him for the continued support of Opposition Front Benchers for—fortunately, in view of its duration—the cross-party approach over many years.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the long duration of the negotiations. This is not just about Foreign Secretaries and US Secretaries of State; it is also about the experts and diplomats who have been carrying out the negotiations. There was at least one person on the team that travelled back from Vienna with me yesterday who has been on this project for 10 years and who now faces finding a new career.
These have been incredibly complex negotiations and it is important that the outcome is a win-win. To have come back from Vienna with something that was a triumph for us but not a win for Iran would have been a hollow victory, because it would eventually have fallen apart. There has to be something solid for Iran and the Iranian people. They must have an opportunity to build a new future and ensure the future prosperity of their country, and I am confident that this agreement will allow that.
In a country such as Iran, we should not underestimate the importance of the religious edict against building a nuclear weapon. That is now firmly enshrined in the words of the Supreme Leader: Iran will not build or seek to acquire a nuclear weapon. The hon. Gentleman is right to say, however, that we have to be pragmatic, and a robust inspection regime is at the heart of our ability to do this deal.
The hon. Gentleman asked how the monitoring and access arrangements would work. The monitoring is multifaceted: there will be electronic monitoring; sophisticated, advanced telemetry; and seals on equipment that has been taken out of use. There will also be CCTV cameras in the facilities and regular inspections by IAEA inspectors. If the IAEA suspects that it needs access to a site that it does not regularly inspect, it can demand access. If the Iranians deny that access, the question of whether it should be allowed will be referred to the commission on the joint comprehensive plan of action and it will determined on a “five out of eight” majority vote. The members of that commission are the E3+3, the EU High Representative and Iran itself. We are confident that, through that format, proper access will be ensured.
On the different timescales, we are comfortable with the end result. Obviously, this was a negotiation and we did not get as long as we would have liked on some of the restrictions, such as conventional arms control. On the nuclear part of the deal, however, we are very comfortable that we have respected our timelines, which are about maintaining a minimum 12-month breakout for a minimum of 10 years. We are very confident that we have well in excess of that minimum breakout period for well in excess of 10 years as a result of the practical effects of the agreement.
The mechanisms for “snap back” are robust and we insisted on them. If any member of the joint commission, including the United Kingdom, believes Iran is in significant violation, that member is entitled to ask the UN Security Council to vote on a negative resolution, which would cause the sanctions to snap back.
I understand why the hon. Gentleman mentioned North Korea, but, having spent some time with the Iranian negotiators and finding out a bit more than I previously knew about Iran, I know that Iran is a very different country from North Korea. Iran is a major player in the region. It is a big country with huge resources and a large and well-educated population. It can, if it chooses, play an enormously positive role in the development of the middle east and, indeed, contribute positively to world affairs.
Mohammad Javad Zarif is a reformer, as is Rouhani, but we do not delude ourselves that everybody in Tehran welcomes this agreement and shares their vision of a more open and more engaged Iran. Our job is to make sure that, as this agreement is implemented, we reinforce the hand of those in Iran who represent the majority who would like Iran to engage in a responsible way with the world. Part of that is ensuring that we work with Iran to deal with the shared threat of ISIL across the region.
Finally, on the question of the embassy, as I have explained to the House there are some technical issues on both sides that will have to be resolved before this can be done, but there is a very clear will to do it. I will be working directly with my Iranian counterpart to ensure that we clear away those obstacles over the next few months. I very much hope that we will be in a position to reopen our respective embassies before the end of this year. I look forward to going to Tehran to do so.
The Foreign Secretary, his political director and all his officials are to be congratulated on their role in this historic agreement. I very much welcome the tone of the Foreign Secretary’s remarks about Iran in his answer to the Opposition spokesman. This now opens the way for Iran to play a constructive role in regional affairs. Noting that we have a profound common interest in defeating Daesh and the welcome, measured tones of the official reaction from Riyadh, will he use this opportunity to employ the full weight of British diplomacy to forge intelligent and effective co-operation between Riyadh and Tehran towards a common strategy to defeat Daesh?
My hon. Friend is right that the big prize is to achieve a measure of reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and a constructive engagement between those two important regional powers in addressing the many challenges facing the region. That will not happen overnight, but he is absolutely right that the measured tone of the response we heard from Saudi Arabia, which was in stark contrast to some of the less measured responses we heard from elsewhere in the region, is promising. I spoke last night to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. We will maintain our engagement doing two things: encouraging our partners and allies in the Arab countries around the Gulf to be willing to engage with Iran over time in a sensible and measured way; and providing them with the reassurance they need about their security to allow them to take a little more risk in trying to realise the opportunities that the agreement presents.
May I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and all others involved on this historic agreement, which is meticulous and has taken an enormous amount of time, effort and detail? I think it is appropriate to congratulate Barack Obama on what is probably the greatest achievement of his presidency. This agreement demonstrates the dictum of Winston Churchill that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. Yes, the Iranian regime has many aspects that are objectionable and nasty, and we look for improvements in their treatment on civil rights and on other matters in Iran, but Iran is a player and it is very important indeed that she be engaged rather than shunned. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the Government of Israel, which unlike Iran is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty and has hundreds of nuclear warheads and missiles, that any attempt by them to interfere with, negate or frustrate this agreement will not be tolerated?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. He takes the words out of my mouth. I was trying to explain, in my conversation with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia last night, why jaw-jaw was better than war-war, but I found it rather difficult to convey across the language barrier. What he says is right: Iran has been subject to 35 years of isolation—that was its own choice and its own fault—and getting it engaged in the affairs of the region again, in a sensible and measured way, will be a huge benefit. I am going to Israel tonight and will have a chance to convey our message about this deal directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow. He has made it clear that he intends to fight it all the way and that Israel will seek to use its influence in the US Congress to obstruct the progress of the deal. I am confident that that action will not succeed. I am also confident that Israel has shown time and again that it can be pragmatic, and that once it has exhausted that avenue of opportunity it will seek to engage in a sensible and pragmatic way to deal with the new reality on the ground in the middle east to the benefit of everyone.
My right hon. Friend is right that if Iran gives up its nuclear ambitions it is a huge move forward in regional and global security, but if we are to have confidence in verification it must be unfettered and unrestricted. Can my right hon. Friend guarantee to the House that under this agreement Iran can be forced to grant access to any site that is designated, and how quickly would Iran be forced to do so? He is right that there are wider potential positive implications for this agreement, but there are also wider potential negative implications. If Iran has sanctions lifted and money pours back into that country, what assurances and guarantees have been sought that it will not simply be used to fund proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and provide greater instability to the region?
My right hon. Friend makes a series of good points and he is right that access for verification is the crucial underpinning of this agreement. If we had not been able to secure robust access and monitoring arrangements, we would not have been able to make this deal; there would have been too much risk attached to it. In response to Dan Jarvis I described the arrangements for the identification of sites for inspection, and reference of any Iranian objections to the commission. We are confident that those arrangements will work. It would mean typically a period of around 20 or 21 days between initial demand and mandated access. Of course, if Iran continues to deny access to a site that the commission has mandated should be accessed, that would be a breach of the agreement and subject to snap-back under the UN Security Council resolution.
My right hon. Friend asked about Iran’s assets. Ultimately, if the deal is fully implemented it will lead to the unfreezing of about $150 billion of Iranian assets, which are currently frozen outside that country. This will not happen overnight. It will be a progressive process.
My right hon. Friend asked two questions: what will happen with that money and how can we be sure it will not be used to foster interference in the region? Of course, we cannot be absolutely sure that it will not, but let me say two things. First, Iran has a huge deficit of infrastructure investment in its country—in its energy exporting infrastructure and in its transport infrastructure; it needs a new fleet of civilian aircraft—so there are huge demands for the use of those assets. The reformers in Iran, of whom President Rouhani is one, understand very well that this deal has to deliver real benefit to ordinary people in Iran as they go about their everyday business, and they will want to invest in those things. Secondly, with very little money available and under the full burden of international sanctions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard command has made a pretty effective job of interfering in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere. It is not as if this body was itching to do things but was unable to do them because it did not have the funds. It has been able to be pretty effective on a shoestring and we do not think, frankly, that the release of these funds will make a material difference.
“This thesis verifies that no laws in Islam are immutable.”
That is true and it is also true of relationships between nations. Will the Foreign Secretary undertake not to listen to the prophets of doom, wherever they come from, but to see this welcome agreement as a start of a process of engagement that will bring the Government, and above all the people, of this remarkable country back into the community of nations?
I confess to the right hon. Gentleman that I was not aware that President Rouhani was a graduate of Glasgow Caledonian University, but I am delighted to hear it. It puts a new spin on my meetings with him where he relied on consecutive English translation; he clearly does understand what we are saying—or perhaps not.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a huge opportunity to grasp, and it is in our interest and the region’s interest that we do so. We must ensure that we do so.
Like most of the contributors so far, I welcome this development, but will the Foreign Secretary bear it in mind that the world also breathed a sigh of relief in 1972 on the signing of the biological weapons convention, only to discover, after a defection in 1989, that Russia had been cheating on a massive and industrial scale? We must always hope for the best in such negotiations, but I hope he will bear it in mind that we must also be prepared for the worst.
I take my right hon. Friend’s cautionary statement. Of course, the difference in the case of Russia’s cheating on the biological weapons agreements was that we did not have the kind of comprehensive intrusive inspections and access regime that we will have in relation to Iran. He is right, however, that while we should go forward with optimism, as others have suggested, we should also be cautious and recognise that there is a big deficit of trust to overcome. We need these access and inspection regimes, and we need to proceed cautiously, not least because, if we cannot reassure our partners in the region that we are approaching this cautiously and sensibly, we will lose them and we will not be able to encourage them to engage in the way we want to see.
I say gently to the Foreign Secretary that history will decide whether this was an historic agreement; it might be a bit premature to say so now. These negotiations took longer to conclude than some of the safeguards he talks about will be in place—it has taken us more than 10 years to get to this point. I want to return to the point about Iran using the lifted sanctions to support its proxies. The right hon. Gentleman needs to reassure the House a little more that when we lift the sanctions Iran will not simply become our proxy to fight our enemies?
First, the hon. Lady is obviously right to correct me on an error that many of us have made—prematurely describing something as historic. She talks about the 10-year timescale. Of course, the significance is that many of the measures taken will have an effect that lasts much longer than 10 years. The challenge now is to change the mindset in Iran—of the Iranian people and the Iranian leadership. We have a 10 to 15-year period, starting now, in which to get it firmly enshrined in the Iranian mentality that it is better for Iran—that it will have greater influence, prosperity and success—if it works with the international community rather than in isolation. That is why it is so important that we engage with Iran, and I look forward to doing that.
I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I press him on one aspect of the agreement. He talked about drawing a line, but we do not have a line yet; we have, in the words of the agreement, a “road map” through which we will arrive at a line. Given Iran’s record of clandestine sites and obfuscation, will he say how we will arrive at that line so as to know exactly what the position is in order that, when verification takes place, we know it is against a position that actually exists?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has responsibility for this, has agreed with Iran a road map and set of activities that need to be carried out so that it can publish its final report. We do not know how long that will take—probably six months or so—but there is conditionality here: until that report is published, the sanctions will not be lifted. That is part of the process that needs to be completed. The IAEA will have the ability to gain technical access, where it needs to do so, and to have technical discussions with Iranian experts, and it is confident—this is completely independent of the negotiators in Vienna—that the measures put in place, which Iran has agreed to as part of the deal, are adequate to allow it to do its job, complete its mission and issue that report.
The Foreign Secretary talked about inspections and the 20 or more days for access to be gained to sites of concern. How confident is he that the citizens of this country can be assured that, in that period of arbitration and discussion about access, Iran will not be able to cover up illicit activity?
These negotiations have gone on for a very long time, and on each and every one of these issues, we have had very lengthy, detailed and technical discussions, and this is one of the issues I have been particularly focused on. I have sought detailed reassurance from our US allies that their assets and resources allow them to be confident of maintaining eyes on the situation from the time access is demanded to the time it is granted. After many hours of discussion, I have been satisfied that it will be possible for us to retain a high degree of confidence that a site has not been tampered with, or, if it has, for us to know exactly how it has been tampered with during that interval. Of course, removing radioactive material from a site is not easy; the radioactive footprint will be present, unless very extensive remediation and cleaning works have taken place.
Order. Forgive me, but on the present trend, it would take a further hour and a half to accommodate all interested colleagues, so the present trend needs to be bucked. Let us look to a new Member to lead us by example. I call Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
My late father wrote extensively in the 1960s on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the key point was that it was prestigious to have nuclear weapons. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Iranians are genuine when they say they are not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon?
I am pleased that this agreement has been reached; it is a huge step forward. As a result of it, does the Foreign Secretary think there is a possibility of holding the middle east weapons-of-mass-destruction-free-zone conference, which was envisaged at the last nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference and was supported by all parties, including Iran? This is surely a great opportunity to push forward to end proliferation across the whole region.
The hon. Gentleman has been a supporter of such a conference for a long time, and as he knows, the Government also support it. The UK has been advocating such a conference and moving forward on this agenda, but I do not think that removing the Iranian issue in itself will solve the problems with bringing the matter to a conclusion. None the less, we will continue to press for the conference.
However the House looks at it, the agreement is clearly a diplomatic triumph for the partners. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in this long-term project—with all the verification involved—greater contact between this country and Iran, across a much broader area than is currently possible, will be essential? Does he also agree that it is essential that the Arab partners to the deal are firmly brought in behind the efforts to normalise relationships with Iran?
Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend. Contacts with Iran will now be critical, opening the country up through trade and investment, travel, people-to-people contacts and Iranian students travelling abroad. One thing the US will do as part of this deal is to end the pre-notification required for certain categories of Iranian students seeking to study in the US. The more Iranians travel abroad and the more foreigners travel to Iran, the better we will understand each other and the greater the chances of making this stick.
It is obviously early days, but in an ideal world, as Iran becomes more engaged in the international community and more engaged in the affairs of the region, we will be more able to engineer a situation in which Iran’s leverage over organisations such as Hamas can be a force for good. We are not there yet, and we are not there automatically, but there is at last an opportunity to engage with Iran on these wider issues, which there has not been while the nuclear file has been hanging over us.
The agreement obviously judges Iran by its actions rather than by its words. Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani are moderate, but hard-liners remain at the heart of the Iranian Government. The Foreign Secretary talks about not giving Iran a free pass to interfere in the region, but it is already interfering massively. Has he spoken to our NATO ally Turkey; what is its reaction to this deal?
I have not spoken to my Turkish counterpart since we did this deal, but I have met him on many occasions over the past few months. Turkey is another important player in this region. All the powers in the region—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Israel—have to be engaged if we are to have a stable region that has any chance of breaking out of the cycle of despair that we have seen for the past 40 years or so.
Does it not say a lot about this Government that, in the past hour in this quaint place of ours, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been dealing with this matter and are prepared to put their trust in the current Iranian regime; yet less than an hour ago, this same Tory Government declared war on the British trade union movement. Be careful what you wish for!
The hon. Gentleman has not disappointed me. I shall take that as an endorsement of the diplomatic triumph that we have achieved in Vienna.
For those of us who have long advocated a greater focus on diplomacy in our dealings with Iran, this agreement is to be very much welcomed, and I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his team on the part they have played in achieving it. Let us hope that it becomes ever more self-fulfilling in that it will strengthen the hands of the many moderates within Iran. To promote dialogue, what measures will the British Government take to encourage or help British business to realise the potential of the Iranian market, given that planeloads of our competitors have been landing in Tehran for some time?
My hon. Friend is right. Clearly, the key thing we need to do is to get our embassy reopened. I have spoken to the Chancellor over the past few days, as we approached the conclusion of this deal, to ensure that the Treasury is engaged in the opportunities that will arise—some quite substantial and early. I think that Iran will want to use some of its unfrozen assets to address some large infrastructure deficits, including in the oil and gas production industry, where the UK is well placed to play a role. The visa regime will be another important part of normalising our relationship with Iran.
The Foreign Secretary has kept his promise not to do a bad deal, but only because he has done an absolutely terrible one. That is why people are celebrating in Tehran, but are utterly dismayed in Tel Aviv. The truth is, as President Obama said, that this will allow Iran to reduce the time needed to acquire nuclear weapons almost to zero when restrictions expire in 10 to 15 years. This will trigger a middle eastern arms race. In response to an earlier question, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the potential release of $150 billion, which is utterly naive, given that while sanctions existed and its economy was in trouble, Iran still used its money to send thousands of rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
The question we have to ask is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv. The answer, of course, is that Israel does not want any deal with Iran. It wants a permanent state of stand-off, which I do not believe is in the interests of the region or in our interest. The hon. Gentleman says that this agreement reduces the time needed to produce a nuclear weapon. It does not: it increases the time needed to do so. He talks about the restrictions expiring, but Iran has undertaken restrictions that are perpetual in nature in the non-proliferation treaty. Of course, any country in the world can break its internationally binding legal obligations, but the world has a set of measures to deal with that, including UN sanctions. If in 15 or 20 years’ time, we are sitting here talking about how to deal with an Iranian dash for a bomb, it will mean we have failed to exploit the opportunities that the deal offers. I think we should be optimistic. We should go into this trying to ensure that we draw Iran back into the international community, reinforce the hand of the moderates within Iran and make a positive outcome for the region and the world.
Order. I almost always seek to call everybody following these statements, but we need brief, pithy questions without preamble and brief replies—otherwise people will be disappointed and the next business will be unreasonably delayed. Let us be led by Mr Richard Bacon.
This is tremendous news and, in my view, a great result for the international community. Since we are congratulating, it is only right to mention the great work of Baroness Ashton, who worked on this matter for five years. It is important to recognise her work.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that bringing such a major power in this region in from the cold may well have a more positive effect on security in the area than practically anything else?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has mentioned Baroness Ashton, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to endorse her important role. Yes, I agree. That is the point I have been making. There are two parts to this. There is the nuclear deal and the robust verification of Iran’s compliance with it, but let us move beyond that and exploit the wider opportunity for this large, wealthy and important country to be part of the wider region or picture rather than to be isolated from it.
One of my earliest statements here was a plea for no military action to be taken against Iran, so that diplomacy could be given a chance. However, many Members are worried about the deal that has been struck, so will my right hon. Friend outline what would have happened and what destabilisation would have occurred if Iran had reached its goal of building a nuclear weapon before diplomacy had its triumph?
Iran, having acquired a nuclear weapon, would have triggered at the very least a nuclear arms race in the middle east. At least two other powers in the middle east would clearly not tolerate Iran possessing a nuclear weapon without going for one themselves. It could be even more stark than that. Almost certainly at some stage and by some means or another, the real alternative to a deal to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb would have been war. What we have averted with this agreement is the threat and prospect of a war to resolve the issue. We have resolved it through diplomacy, which I think is hugely to be welcomed.
In light of this very welcome agreement and noting that, in May, Iran joined 112 non-proliferation treaty member states in signing the humanitarian pledge initiated by Austria to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, will the Foreign Secretary explain what steps the UK Government will take to decommission our own arsenal, instead of spending billions on locking ourselves into yet more nuclear weapons?
As the hon. Lady will know, we have reduced the number of warheads to the absolute minimum necessary to maintain our continuous at-sea deterrent and the UK remains committed to the principle of a world free of nuclear weapons, but we will be able to get there only when there is consensus about multilateral nuclear disarmament—and we are not there yet.
Iran’s future in world affairs depends largely on its educated, cultured and surprisingly liberal middle class. What does my right hon. Friend think could be done to renew the cultural ties between this country and Iran that have been in the freezer for too long?
As I have said before, I think that this is about contact: it is about travel, about trade and about investment; it is about allowing small and medium-sized Iranian businesses to start exporting again. I cannot adequately express how important I think it will be that the United States is to remove restrictions on the import of Iranian foodstuffs and carpets. Those may sound like small measures, but they will affect many thousands of entrepreneurs across Iran and change their prospects significantly.
In his statement, the Foreign Secretary said that there must be something in this for the Iranian people. Iran has the most appalling record of human rights abuses, particularly the targeting of women with acid attacks and the deliberate persecution of Christians. What has the Foreign Secretary been able to do about that?
Our negotiations have been about the nuclear deal. We have deliberately not widened them to make them into a negotiation about Iran’s activities in the region, which we view negatively, or its human rights record, which we also view negatively. As I have said in the House many times before, the only way in which we can have any influence over what people do is to engage with them. By re-engaging, as this agreement will allow us to do, we will have a greater ability to influence Iran’s behaviour in the future, and as I said in my statement, we will continue to target Iran’s appalling human rights record.
As my hon. Friend would expect, I shall put the case for the agreement to the Israeli Prime Minister, and I have no doubt that I shall hear, in great detail, his case against it.
In 1991, I sat in the office of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, having a fairly robust discussion about the plans in relation to Iraq at that time and, in particular, the prospect of transporting nuclear waste. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us how the issue of the nuclear waste that is being generated will be handled as a result of the agreement?
I am not sure that I quite understand the question. At present, Iran does not have a functioning civil nuclear power generation programme. The position is very clear, however. Under the agreement, there are restrictions on the amount of enriched uranium, even at 3.67%, that Iran can hold. Any excess must be immediately and irreversibly converted back into a different form, or else exported. The Russians, who have been extremely helpful during the negotiations, have agreed to act as an export point for any material that Iran needs to export to comply with the agreement.
My right hon. Friend rightly highlighted the activities of the Iranian revolutionary guard corps as an example of Iran’s current meddling beyond its borders. Given the large amount of resources that will be released to Iran as a consequence of the agreement, will my right hon. Friend tell us what assurances he and his fellow negotiators have received from the Iranians that those resources will not be directed towards further funding for the IRGC’s export of the Iranian revolution?
As I think I have made clear before, we have no specific commitments. Iran will have access, over time, to about £90 billion-worth of frozen assets. That will not happen overnight; it will happen over a period of many years. No doubt, the IRGC will have ideas about recommending how some of the money could be spent, but so will people in many other parts of the Iranian system. Iran has a huge infrastructure deficit. If it is to increase its oil-exporting capacity, which it will want to do, it will need to invest very heavily in the oil industry, and we would expect a fair amount of the unfrozen funds to go into that sector.
The hon. Gentleman has asked three separate questions. How confident am I that Iran will comply? I believe that I am highly confident that it will comply with its specific obligations under the deal. How likely is it that Iran will become a partner in the battle against ISIL? I believe that it is likely, because Iran shares our view that ISIL is an existential threat. How we collaborate will have to be managed very carefully, because of the legacy of mistrust and the challenges of co-operation, but we are strategically aligned in relation to ISIL.
How confident am I that Iran’s behaviour in the region will change? That is a bigger question. I think that it is a potential prize, but we have not yet gained it. We have to build trust, and we have to show Iran, by our actions and not just by our words, that collaborating and acting reasonably works for both sides and provides benefits for both sides.
If the agreement is fully adhered to, it has the potential to change the regional dynamic in a positive way. Given that a number of countries are party to it, does the Foreign Secretary, at this stage, anticipate its smooth ratification by all those countries, or does he anticipate any challenges or bumps in the road?
I think that the only big bump—speed bump—in the road ahead is the United States Congress. I am confident that, although Congress will want to debate the issue and scrutinise the agreement, it will come out in favour of it, but President Obama has made it clear that, if it does not, he will use his veto power.
May I return the Foreign Secretary to the issue of human rights? Iran has the highest execution rate in the world.
I accept that the scope of the agreement is very narrow, but will the Foreign Secretary tell us precisely how he can use the agreement to try to enter into a more productive dialogue with Iran about its human rights record?
I think that it would be a mistake to view the agreement simply in terms of opportunities for foreign powers to lecture Iran about its human rights record. The big prize here is that the agreement takes the brakes off Iranian society. It allows more interaction with the rest of the world through trade, investment, travel and study, and it changes the way in which Iranian society works from the inside. We will continue to promote our views on human rights to the Iranian Government, but the message will be much more powerful if Iran starts to receive it through internal change.
I believe that a very large proportion of the population of Iran is under 30 years old. To develop long-term good relations with the country following the agreement, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we, like the Americans, allow Iranian students to come to our universities, study and become friends with us? Then future Presidents might go not just to Glasgow Caledonian University, but to some other very good universities here as well.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right: Iran is a young country. I believe that 70% of the population is under the age of 35. Most of those people are desperate to normalise their lives and establish contact with the outside world, and we should encourage that. The United Kingdom’s higher education sector is open to those who wish to come here and study, and we should extend that invitation to Iranians as our relations with Iran also normalise.
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, has just reminded me that there is a significant Iranian diaspora in the United Kingdom, consisting in many cases of people with high levels of skill who left Iran after the revolution in 1979. Judging by the experience of many other countries that have opened up—for example, countries in eastern Europe—there will be great benefits for Iran if it can lure some of those people to go back over the coming years.
The Foreign Secretary will go to Tel Aviv and Washington with a wide spectrum of support from the House and the country. It is right that we seize this rare opportunity of allowing modern elements, both secular and religious, to take charge. The agreement is a great triumph, which enables us to envisage the development of a future involving the achievement of peace in the middle east. It is practical; it is courageous; and it is likely to work.
Many of my constituents still have concerns about whether this deal will be strictly enforced, in particular in respect of the inspectors’ ease of access to facilities and whether those facilities can easily be switched back. What further reassurances can the Foreign Secretary give the House?
As I said in answer to an earlier question, I am confident that the access regimes are robust and the monitoring regimes—with CCTV cameras, telemetry control and seals on pieces of equipment and so on—will be effective, and the IAEA is assuring me it is confident it can do the job asked of it. All this is of course supplemented by the satellite surveillance capability, which will allow us to see anything that is happening in buildings or on sites targeted for access if there is any delay in achieving that access. I think we can be reasonably confident that overall this regime will work.
The deal is important and welcome, but the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there have been rumours that Saudi Arabia would respond to a deal by trying to develop its own nuclear programme. What assessment has he made of those rumours, and does he think Saudi may go in that direction?
I think Saudi Arabia may well have been tempted to look at acquiring its own capability if it believed Iran was developing a military nuclear capability. This deal reassures us that Iran cannot develop that military nuclear capability, and I believe other powers in the region will feel they now have no need to go down that route.
I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend’s work in securing these improved diplomatic relations with Iran. He mentioned that he has, rightly, spoken to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in the last 24 hours. What discussions will he be having with other Persian gulf states, such as the United Arab Emirates, to reassure them as well?
I and my hon. Friends will be talking to our colleagues across the Gulf, and the Prime Minister is also intending to engage with some of his interlocutors. I was very pleased that the UAE issued a statement welcoming the deal, indicating that it intends to engage positively with the opportunities that now arise. That is hugely important. The UAE is an influential state in the Gulf, and its commitment to making this agreement work and changing the dynamic in the region is hugely significant.
The Secretary of State said the deal would help the alignment of western and Iranian foreign policy in the middle east. What does he think the implications of this deal will be for western foreign policy in respect of the conflict in Syria?
I did not say that; what I said was that we are aligned in our view of ISIL as an existential challenge that needs to be dealt with. We do not agree on everything and we will not agree on everything, but where we do agree we can work together, and that is the important thing.
Given the clandestine history of the Iranian nuclear programme, particularly in regard to the Fordow and Natanz facilities, one of which is constructed under a mountain, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that Iran will not clandestinely continue to seek a bomb?
We have specifically excluded Iran from carrying out any enrichment or research and development activities at Fordow, the underground site. All Iran’s enrichment activity for the civil fuel programme will be at Natanz, the single site in Iran authorised to carry out enrichment, and the range of surveillance, access and electronic and CCTV monitoring that has been agreed under this joint comprehensive plan of action will give us the assurance my hon. Friend seeks for his constituents.
I too welcome the announcement of this deal, and think the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right that there is the potential for a wider positive consequence for the region. Will he describe in a little more detail the next steps for engaging with Iran and reassuring those who remain sceptical?
First, it is not possible to sit with somebody in a hotel for six weeks negotiating a deal without getting to know them a bit better, and I and, I think, all my western counterparts have forged much better personal relationships with the Iranian Foreign Minister and his team and feel we have a channel we can communicate on now. That does not mean that all the problems will be solved or that we are going to agree on everything. Reopening our embassy, supporting our businesses to get in there, supporting Iranian businesses to start exporting again, and building the people-to-people links are the ways to build, over time, the trust that is so missing between our countries, and has been missing for the last 35 years.
I am glad my hon. Friend has asked me that question, because it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the experts on our team. The UK has contributed to the grinding, detailed, expert effort by nuclear scientists to get this deal right—to check and double-check every aspect of it, to make sure what is written on the paper will deliver the assurances the politicians seek. We have played a very important role in that. We have also played an important role in ensuring that the conventional arms embargo and the missile technology embargo remain in place. These are not directly related to the nuclear agreement, but are very important to reassure our neighbours in the Gulf, and they therefore form a vital part of the overall package.
I give a hopeful but cautious welcome to the Foreign Secretary’s statement. He will know that the UK and NATO partners are in dispute with Russia over a number of critical defence issues. Will he therefore recognise that many of us are uneasy about Russia’s role in this process? What assurances can he give the House on that?
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that Russia has played a completely constructive role in these negotiations. The interests of the P5 countries have been broadly aligned throughout this process, and nobody else was in a position to take and reprocess the Iranian materials that have to be exported from the country—and the truth is that Russia has mountains of this stuff anyway, so sending it to Russia does not materially alter the position Russia is in.
There are suspicions that Iran may have acquired nuclear weapons already. One of the concerns will be about establishing, under the wording of the agreement, that it will not seek to proliferate nuclear weapons. What measures has my right hon. Friend taken in this agreement to ensure that existing military establishments are identified and inspected so that the west can be assured that Iran is not in a position to launch nuclear weapons?
It is not our assessment that Iran has developed nuclear weapons. We assess that under the programme Iran has been operating, it has been getting close to having enough fissile material for a single nuclear device, and that is why this agreement was so urgently needed. As part of this settlement, the road map agreed between the IAEA and Iran will allow the IAEA to make a full assessment of Iran’s nuclear programme, including any military dimension to that programme, and it will publish a report in due course. The publication of that report is a condition precedent for the relaxation of sanctions, so Iran has a very big stake in getting it done.
I hope I am wrong, but I fear the Foreign Secretary and my Front-Bench team are mistaken on this deal. Just 60 days ago President Obama described Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Could we at least have a guarantee that we will track the unfrozen assets so we know whether they are being used to finance further terrorist activity?
Well, I hope the hon. Gentleman is wrong, too. Let us be clear that we are talking about two different things. We are talking about an agreement to prevent Iran from being able to build a nuclear weapon, and I am very confident about the effectiveness of that agreement. We have spent much of the discussion here talking about the wider potential benefits of opening up relationships with Iran, but those are not guaranteed. We do not have any guarantee that Iran will stop sponsoring terrorism in the middle east or that it will engage more effectively with its neighbours, but common sense tells me that as the country opens up and as its overwhelmingly young population sees its standard of living rising and is able to travel abroad, we will stand a much better chance of engaging Iran constructively in the world.
Well, potentially, but this agreement and the non-proliferation treaty obligations that Iran has undertaken include the proliferation of nuclear know-how, technologies and materials from third countries into Iran, so that route to a bomb is also covered by these agreements.
The enforcement of this deal will be well served by the deployment of British nuclear expertise at every technical level. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what specific involvement the British nuclear industry will have in the decommissioning and monitoring of the Iranian programme?
The Iranians will do most of the decommissioning work themselves. It is relatively low-level work involving taking out pipework and destroying centrifuges, and it will be done under a regime that will be overseen by the IAEA. The big piece of engineering work is the redesign of the Arak reactor. Britain does not have industrial capabilities that are relevant to that particular project, which will be led by the Chinese with other international partners working in consortium.
I echo the compliments that have been paid to the Foreign Secretary, his colleagues and predecessors and to all those involved over the long course of the negotiations. I hope that this agreement will prove that firm UN resolutions, sanctions and applied diplomacy can be a workable combination. Will the UK Government be influenced as to the pace and scope of sanctions relaxation by how well the Iranian Government move towards respecting human rights, so that the minorities who are being discriminated against do not feel a new sense of exclusion by being denied the benefits of the reduction in sanctions?
The UK does not have any bilateral sanctions against Iran; we are talking about EU and UN sanctions. The programme under which the sanctions will be removed is strictly related to Iran’s progressive compliance with its nuclear obligations under the joint comprehensive plan of action. As Iran delivers steps of compliance, we will remove bits of the sanctions regime. That is the way it has to be, if we are to get a win-win agreement. We will continue to press Iran on its human rights record and on its interference in the region, but those factors are not part of the conditionality of this agreement.