Iran Nuclear Deal

– in the House of Commons at 12:48 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay 12:48 pm, 8th May 2019

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. To ask the Government to make a statement on the status of the Iran nuclear deal.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The UK notes with great concern the statement made by Iran today concerning its commitments under the joint comprehensive plan of action. We are analysing the detail of it and are in close contact with the other parties to the deal. Today’s announcement from Tehran is, I have to say to the House, an unwelcome step. We urge Iran not to take further escalatory steps, and to stand by its commitments. We are not at this stage talking about re-imposing sanctions, but one has to remember that they were lifted in exchange for the nuclear restrictions as part of the JCPOA. Should Iran cease meeting its nuclear commitments, there would of course be consequences, but so long as Iran keeps to its commitments then so too will the United Kingdom. It is critical that we maintain an open dialogue with Iran, and we intend to do so: for example, the Foreign Office’s political director is visiting Tehran this week to discuss this and a range of bilateral issues. I myself hope to visit Iran in the coming months.

We recall our own firm commitments under the deal, including to lift sanctions for the benefit of the Iranian people. The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions is, of course, an essential part of the JCPOA. It aims to have a positive impact not only on trade and economic relations with Iran but, most importantly, on the lives of the many ordinary Iranian people who have had such a tough time over recent decades. We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the United States following its withdrawal from the JCPOA.

Along with the remaining participants of the JCPOA—Germany, France, Russia and China—we are committed to working on sanctions relief for Iran, together with third countries that are interested in supporting the JCPOA. We are determined to pursue efforts with European and other partners to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran. The UK and our European partners met Iranian officials in Brussels only yesterday to discuss the next steps needed to operationalise the special purpose vehicle, INSTEX—instrument in support of trade exchanges—which aims to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran.

Even at this stage, we encourage all countries, including Russia and China as JCPOA participants, to make their very best efforts to pursue the sanctions relief that the agreement allows for through concrete steps. We take this opportunity to call on all parties that are not party to the JCPOA to refrain from taking any actions that would impede the ability of the remaining parties to fully perform their commitments.

Finally, it is important to remember that the UK remains very clear-eyed about Iran’s destabilising activity in other parts of the middle east—including its ballistic missile programme, which must now be addressed. However, we see that that can best be done through the JCPOA remaining in place.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

It is now a year since the US Government unilaterally withdrew from the joint comprehensive plan of action, better known as the Iranian nuclear deal. The Trump Administration have recently announced the forthcoming expansion of oil sanctions to all countries that buy oil from Iran, and have dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Gulf.

This morning, the Iranian Government announced that they are suspending key parts of the 2015 deal, citing the effect of US sanctions against their economy. Among other actions, Iran has stated that it will keep stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water rather than selling them on the international market, but it has threatened to resume production of enriched uranium in 60 days if the other signatories to the Iran deal—UK, France, China, Germany and Russia—do not plot a way forward to help the Iranian economy to withstand the effects of the US oil and financial sanctions.

It does not take me to remind the Minister that reaching the deal took broadly 10 years of diplomacy. At the time, it helped to avert a regional conflict; the House will remember how close the US, the UK and Israel came to military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2012. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that I led a Backbench Business debate on the issue at the time, in which I called for more diplomacy and less sabre-rattling. The House should also remember that the United Nations has made it clear that as far as it is concerned, Iran has abided by the deal—this is a unilateral action by the US.

I ask the Minister what else the Government can do to ensure the continuance of this important nuclear non-proliferation treaty, because whatever they are doing is clearly not succeeding at this point. I do not think that I am alone in believing that if the deal fails, there is a real chance of nuclear proliferation across the region. If that happened, I doubt whether there would be any winners in the conflict.

I will add one further point. Yes, we know that Iran is up to no good with some of its other activities in the region—terrorist activities and so forth. In diplomacy, however, going from imperfection to perfection in international relationships cannot be done in one bound; it is a series of small steps. The important thing is to head in the right direction. If the deal is allowed to fail, it will make for conflict in the region and possibly an escalation of nuclear capabilities. That would be bad news not just for the region, but for the world. The Foreign Office has to do more to use its diplomacy with regard to the US.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the JCPOA is a cornerstone. It is critical for our security, not least because nuclear proliferation in that region of all regions would be calamitous. We therefore remain committed to it—as he rightly points out, it is the result of hard work over more than a decade of diplomacy. In the 18 years that we have been Members of Parliament, he has taken great interest in these matters; I very much respect his thoughtful contributions.

I ask my hon. Friend, and all hon. Members, to be assured that diplomacy continues. I very much hope to go to Tehran shortly, where we have an outstanding ambassador in Rob Macaire. As I pointed out earlier, we are working tirelessly on a mechanism to ensure that trade can continue, and that prosperity can therefore return to Iran; we were doing that in Brussels in the past 24 hours. Continued work is very much on our mind. We believe that the deal is broadly working, and is therefore delivering on its goal to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank Mr Baron for securing it and for the consistency and clarity of his statements, which go back many years, about the need for peace with Iran.

Today is a deeply sad day for all of us, on all sides, who regarded the Iran nuclear deal as one of the crowning diplomatic achievements of this century and who saw it as opening a door to potential progress on all the other issues on which we have such grave problems with Iran— not least its human rights record. We very much hope for the contrary of what we fear, which is not just that the door to progress has been closed today, but that a very different door is being opened—one that leads us back to the past and to the threat of a new and devastating conflict in an already devastated middle east.

Let us make no mistake. The theocratic wing of the Iranian Government has always wanted the nuclear deal to fail, just as much as Donald Trump and the neo-con hawks who advise him. Frankly, this is not the day—tempting though it is—to berate those who are seemingly destroying the deal and throwing away the prospect of future progress. Today is simply a day to ask what our Government, our European Union and our United Nations can do together to prevent the slide back to confrontation and, eventually, war.

Iran is a country nine times the size of Syria, with a population three and a half times that of Syria before its civil war. Colin Powell’s former top adviser, Lawrence Wilkerson, who helped to create the case for the Iraq war, saw a potential war with Iran as

“10 to 15 times worse…in terms of casualties and costs.”

My only question to the Government today is the same question asked by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay: what practical steps will they now take to get the nuclear deal back on track and avoid descent into a catastrophic new war?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank the right hon. Lady. As she alluded to, it is appropriate, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo here in town to see the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, to look at the narrow facts rather than try to make a broader political point, although she also did so in her comments.

As I said earlier, we believe that the deal is working and is delivering its goal to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme remains peaceful. That it is working has been confirmed by consecutive International Atomic Energy Agency reports, the most recent of which was published as recently as 22 February.

We accept that Iran’s nuclear activities must be peaceful, and that it is imperative therefore that it continue to comply with its obligations under the JCPOA. We will do all we can, not just bilaterally but internationally, including at the United Nations. It is interesting, as I pointed out earlier, that both China and Russia understand the grave concerns of the international community about the major and damaging consequences that could come into play.

It was very fair of the right hon. Lady to point out that Iran has been a destabilising influence and remains so—look at Yemen, Lebanon and Gaza, where various proxies are in place—but equally we must work together with diplomacy. A lot of that work goes on quietly behind the scenes. Please be assured that those efforts will continue, not least because destabilisation in the region would have global consequences.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I do not always agree with my hon. Friend Mr Baron, but he has got this absolutely right, and I commend him for both the question and the way he put it.

The action of Iran today is not particularly unexpected, but it is incontrovertible that it drops at a time of much-heightened rhetoric around the situation between Iran and the US, and in a complex region where the risk of confrontation has now been increased. What appears to be missing is a channel between Washington and Tehran, however private, to start de-escalating some of this rhetoric and, with regard to allies in the region who take strong views on this, to move away from confrontation.

I note that there is a 60-day delay before the Iranians take further action. In a sense, that is an offer to make progress on negotiations. In the talks today between the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and Secretary of State Pompeo, can we start to explore, however privately—the Americans might not be able to say much about it—the urgent need for that direct back-channel link, which needs to be built if we are to move away from what Emily Thornberry accurately characterised as the possibility of something catastrophic in the not-too-distant future?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. He will appreciate that we do not comment directly on intelligence matters, but he will also understand that the discussions today in Downing Street and at the Foreign Office will inevitably touch on this, as well as other important bilateral issues. We share many of the US’s concerns about Iran’s destabilising activities in the region, and although it would not be proper for me to comment on intelligence matters, we will maintain an ongoing and deep conversation on this matter with all parts of the US Administration. As I said, the Foreign Secretary is speaking—at this very moment, I believe—with Secretary of State Pompeo. As was alluded to in the last two questions, it is understood that the US is deploying more military assets to the region. This is a matter for the US, and we share its concerns about Iran’s regional activities, but equally we believe it important to de-escalate many of these tensions.

Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I thank Mr Baron for securing this urgent question and for his remarks. I agree that we have to note the painstaking diplomacy that led to the agreement.

These latest developments are incredibly concerning to all Members, who are worried about the impact on global and regional security, as the Minister mentioned. If the UK has influence, it must be used to urge the US and Iran to re-engage and, critically, to work towards not just an agreement, but a world free from these appalling weapons of mass destruction. Noting the remarks of Alistair Burt, which were considered, as always, I must say with great respect to the Minister, who has an awful lot on his plate, that dysfunction at the heart of Government should not be allowed to spread elsewhere. Does the Minister know when a Minister for the Middle East will be appointed? I say that with respect to him and all the work he has on his plate. What conversations has the Foreign Secretary had with his counterparts in the US and the EU on the need to get an agreement back on track and also to build a stable, nuclear-free world?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his—I think kind—comments. I am perfectly happy being the interim Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as holding the Asia and Pacific brief. He will appreciate that unfortunately we are all rather ensconced here, so travelling out to the far-flung bits of Asia is a bit of a no go, but, with my Foreign Office experience, I have been able to perform these two roles pro tem and I intend to do so to the best of my abilities in the weeks and months ahead.

The Foreign Secretary works closely on these issues with UN and EU partners, and we are actively looking at them. In my first comments, I touched on the work being done on the mechanism to maintain trade, which is an important part of balancing expectations. One of the concerns of many in the Iranian community over the last four years has been that they have not felt that they have had as much as they should have had of the economic benefits flowing from the sacrifices—as they see it—they made on the nuclear programme. We are very keen to keep those benefits intact on a sanctions-free basis. The Foreign Secretary and others in the Foreign Office are spending a lot of time trying to ensure that we get that into play. I think the hon. Gentleman can be assured that the Foreign Office is working very hard on these matters, and we feel that we are able to do so with the resources that we have.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I am grateful that the former Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend Alistair Burt, has made his views clear and shared with the House his, as ever, wise counsel. I welcome the Minister to his place, but I agree, I am afraid, with Stephen Gethins that, though the Minister does a brilliant job, he himself I know is looking for a bit of extra support, although he gets a lot of support from his parliamentary friends.

How much of this is about an internal debate in Iran and concerned not so much with US relations as with the internal palace coups we have seen involving the mullahs, the elected Government, the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militias? The country is falling apart. There is a youth movement challenging authority in a way not seen in the 40 years since the Revolutionary Guard established this extraordinary tyranny. We are seeing a fundamental change in the structure of what should be one of the greatest and most prosperous countries in the region. What is the Minister doing to encourage those for whom liberty is an opportunity and who do not see control as the only vector through which order can be established?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I will take that as a job application and will see that it is passed on to No. 10 Downing Street and the Chief Whip. I also had a whisper in my ear just then. It is only fair that I mention the great team of Parliamentary Private Secretaries and others who provide certain assistance on these matters. I have to keep in their good books at the best of times.

My hon. Friend makes some very wise and important points. It is probably unwise to speculate about the stability of a regime—no doubt there have been predictions in the last 40 years about the stability of the Iranian regime—but he makes a valid point. This is a country at the heart of the region. It is a country of 65 to 70 million people and is a hugely important player, but it is not fulfilling its potential, in terms of prosperity, for its people, in spite of its great assets both capital and human. We would obviously like to see a more stable Iran and Iranian Government. As I said, it would be unwise to make too many predictions at our end, but it is fair to say there is instability within the regime, although it is difficult to predict where that will lead. Suffice it to say that we view the JCPOA in all its facets—not just nuclear disarmament, but its economic aspects—as a cornerstone of the continued co-operation between our countries.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

The Iran nuclear deal is imperfect, but it is a significant achievement that helps to make our world safer, and it is too important for us to let it unravel. A key pressure point is obviously the soaring inflation that is hitting ordinary Iranians hard, although, as the Minister says, Iran has kept to its side of the bargain. What can the Government do to help to mitigate the effects of the reckless and short-sighted US sanctions on ordinary Iranian people, and to help to de-escalate the situation and get the deal back on track?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

While I broadly agree with the hon. Lady, I think it fair to say that the destabilising impact of Iran in that region is not exactly part and parcel of the bargain either. We have had debates and urgent questions about what is happening in Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon and, of course, Syria, where Iran’s influence has been profound, and we obviously have concerns about that destabilising influence. So things are a little more complicated that the hon. Lady has suggested.

We feel that the JCPOA is the only game in town. That is why, although the US has pulled out of it, we are determined to ensure that we remain actively engaged. As the hon. Lady said, the sanctions relief is the key incentive for Iran to remain bound by the restriction of its nuclear programme, which is why we are so keen to get the special purpose vehicle, INSTEX, in place at the earliest opportunity. It is not yet operational, but the E3—France, Germany and ourselves—are working to address all the technical and legal aspects required to make it operational, and once it is up and running, there will be great trade benefits.

There is genuine debate within Iran—we have no doubt about that—and we therefore feel that it is very important for the UK, with our partners, to engage through diplomatic channels, with the support of those who have a brighter future in mind for that country.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

Given the vital importance of the intelligence arrangements that we share with the United States, in the context of this particular crucial and worrying situation, will the Minister encourage the Foreign Secretary to persevere in his attempts to make sense prevail in the Cabinet, so that our intelligence relationships with the US and other Five Eyes allies are not put at risk by cosying up to the communist Chinese Government for short-sighted commercial reasons?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

My right hon. Friend and I have had many happy times in our five years together on the Intelligence and Security Committee, and have discussed a range of these matters. As he will know, intelligence issues should not be discussed on the Floor of the House, but he has made his view clear, and I will ensure that the Foreign Secretary is made well aware of it.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

The Foreign Secretary is currently meeting the US Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo. What conversations are taking place about Germany? Is Mr Pompeo being encouraged to go back to plan A, which was to visit Germany and speak to his German counterpart—given that Germany was a key partner in the original JCPOA—so that we can form a united front in tackling the crucial question of nuclear disarmament?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I very much hope that Secretary of State Pompeo will be able to visit Germany at the earliest opportunity, or indeed to engage in high-level meetings with his German counterpart, whether at the United Nations in New York or elsewhere. In fairness, I think that he rearranged his programme very late in the day. It was considered important for him to be in Iraq to gain an understanding of what was happening on the ground in Iran, so his programme was reorganised at fairly short notice, but we will ensure that those heartfelt concerns are passed on.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

I certainly agree with the Minister that this development is extremely unwelcome, and that there is now a need for calm and for judgment. He mentioned legitimate trade. He will be aware that a significant number of jobs, both here and in Iran, have been created through various trade deals, which is obviously in the interests of both countries. Will he say a bit more about what he is doing to support the role of the INSTEX special purpose vehicle that will be set up under sanctions relief to encourage more legitimate trade?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

Let me first thank my hon. Friend for all the hugely important work that he does. He is our trade envoy to Libya, which is obviously a difficult role, but in the past he was our Minister for Africa in the Foreign Office, and I know that his contribution there is remembered very fondly.

My hon. Friend has made a good point about the special purpose vehicle, which is important because it will ensure that we see genuine and lasting sanctions relief. The SPV is designed to facilitate legitimate trade under both European and international law. Its immediate focus will understandably be on the facilitation of trade where the immediate needs of the Iranian people are greatest—the humanitarian needs for foodstuffs, agricultural products, pharmaceuticals and trade in consumer goods. That will obviously have an impact on UK companies wishing to trade with Iran, as well as benefiting the Iranian people. The UK, France and Germany are the initial owners and shareholders of the SPV, but we are working with other interested EU member countries that may also wish to play a formal role in these initiatives.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Independent, Ilford South

The millions of young people in Iran who have suffered under the oppressive theocratic regime were hopeful that the JCPOA would lead to an easing of sanctions, which would in turn lead to economic benefits, but because of the incompetence and corruption of the regime, that easing of sanctions has not had the economic impact for which they hoped. Can we send a clear message to the people of Iran that if we have to re-impose sanctions because their regime broke its word, we will not be acting against the Iranian people, and that we look forward to the day when they will be able to choose their Government freely?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The hon. Gentleman has, perhaps, used slightly less diplomatic language than I might have used, but I think that the message to the Iranian people from all of us here is loud and clear: “We are very much on your side.” Iran remains a priority country for the UK in relation to its human rights situation, to which he alluded. On 15 November, the UN General Assembly Third Committee approved a resolution, co-sponsored by the UK, which urged Iran to address a long list of human rights violations, including the widespread use of arbitrary detention. We very much want to see a move towards democracy and all the opportunities that that will provide for all Iranians, not only in human rights but in the broader arena of prosperity.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee

I hesitate to disagree with my hon. Friend Mr Baron, especially after he sponsored my swim in aid of my local hospital, but I have to say that when this agreement was reached, it was understood that Iran would stop supporting and funding Hezbollah and Hamas. Far from that being the case, support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups—which is also causing instability in the middle east—has increased to a major extent. May I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to take those matters into consideration when dealing with Iran? I actually think that the sanctions for which the Americans have opted are the right way forward.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I understand that my right hon. Friend swam a long way—I am a non-swimmer myself—and raised a lot of money. I hope that in the two neighbouring parts of Essex he and our hon. Friend will be sinking rather than swimming. [Interruption.] I think I got that the wrong way round. I meant “swimming rather than sinking”. [Interruption.] I always thought I would be the straight man in the Foreign Office—that was certainly the case with the last Foreign Secretary.

As my right hon. Friend knows, he and I disagree slightly on this matter. We feel that the JCPOA is the only game in town. We feel that, broadly speaking, it has worked, and we wish to see it work. I know that my right hon. Friend takes a different, albeit very principled, view, but we will continue to do all we can to ensure that the JCPOA succeeds in its own terms.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Obviously the risk of an escalation in the middle east will be significant if Iran decides to resume its nuclear programme. What is the Minister doing to address the risk of a further escalation, with responses from Saudi Arabia and also Israel, and a potential arms race in the middle east?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I understand why the hon. Gentleman asks that. Clearly we want to de-escalate tensions in the region, so he will also understand why it would be unwise of me to speculate further at the Dispatch Box.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

No one wants nuclear proliferation in the middle east; anyone who does would have to be mad, and not even the so-called neo-cons in America want that. Can my right hon. Friend tell me why the Americans pulled out of this deal? I assume their decision was based on intelligence; have the British Government received that intelligence and do they agree with it, and if so why are we still pursuing this deal?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

As my hon. Friend will understand, for obvious reasons I am not going to make any comment on intelligence-related matters. There was a concern at the time: the Trump Administration’s view was that it was a bad deal for the US, and it had of course been negotiated by the previous Administration. Let me restate our view: we urge Iran not to take any escalatory steps and to continue to meet its commitments under the deal, but while Iran is in full compliance we shall remain fully committed to the JCPOA, and I know that position is shared by the French and Germans.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Can the Minister reassure the House that the British Government will continue throughout the stages of this crisis to align with France and Germany as opposed to the US Administration, who seem intent on escalating the situation?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I very much hope the US is not intent on escalating this, and I hope we will come to an agreement with all our close allies in this region. We are working very closely with the EU3, two members of which are on the Security Council: Germany is on it this year and next and France, like us, is a permanent member. We will continue to do so, but we would very much like to see the American Administration also supporting many of the aims, which are the only positive realistic route forward and would be good not just for the Iranian people but the region as a whole.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

I listen to this ongoing story of Iran and nuclear proliferation with a chill for fear of where it might lead, which is why I have stayed in the Chamber today. We have to put a stop to this. Does my right hon. Friend agree that strength can come from working with the remaining partners in the JCPOA and that through them we must ensure this plan remains in place, and also that we must, working jointly through them, put pressure on the US to deal with its sanctions and potentially remove them?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. It is worth remembering that Iran’s ballistic missile programme is a great threat to the security not just of the middle east but of Europe, and that cannot be ignored. We will continue to urge Iran to abide by all relevant UN Security Council resolutions. We call upon all parties to report to the UN activities inconsistent with the resolutions, and we will continue to keep the pressure up.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Independent, Enfield North

Iran’s actions announced today are highly regrettable and are the inevitable consequence of President Trump’s decision last year. However, I echo what Robert Halfon said and say to the Minister that if, as it says, the Iranian regime wants to negotiate new terms it must also address its support for terror groups such as Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which together fired some 700 rockets, missiles and mortars indiscriminately at Israel from Gaza last weekend, killing four people. It is not acceptable to leave out the ending of that kind of behaviour if new terms are being demanded.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. We first came across each other 22 years ago this week, but in a different context, as some will know. [Interruption.] For the avoidance of doubt for the rest of the House, she beat me in the 1997 election—and look where we have both ended up; isn’t it terrible?

The right hon. Lady makes a serious point, and we were also deeply upset by the death of those four Israeli civilians last weekend and very worried about the potential for escalation. Thankfully, I think wise voices have ensured that that has not happened. She makes a good point, as I said, and a concern we have, shared by some in the US Administration, is that Iran being an ongoing destabilising influence in the region is not compatible with sanctions being lifted.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

The JCPOA is headed entirely in the direction many of us told the Government it would be, and for me what is most disappointing is the millions of people in Iran whose future has been destroyed, and also the people in countries including Syria, Lebanon and Yemen who have been killed as a result of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and others taking the money released from the change in sanctions and putting it into death and destruction in the middle east. That has resulted in a destabilised middle east and a breakdown in international diplomacy. Importantly, we should now take the lead of Secretary Pompeo and say, “Let’s reopen this negotiation.” We should look not only at human rights in Iran and economic development in Iran, but at what the Iranian regime is doing with regard to its people and its future nuclear capability.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I disagree with my hon. Friend. I think the JCPOA has been an important attempt at least to try to bring stability to the region. The region was not stable before the JCPOA was negotiated between 2005 and 2015. We believe not just that the deal is based on trust about Iran’s intentions, but that it provides for rigorous verification and monitoring that allows the International Atomic Energy Agency access to Iran’s nuclear programme, and in return we want to see some economic sanctions being lifted. I understand the concerns my hon. Friend has raised, but it would be wrong to think we could either walk away from this plan of action or feel that it is open for fundamental renegotiation, and I do not think that would be practical diplomatic politics either.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness

But it is important to be clear about Iran’s “destabilising influence”, which the Minister euphemistically and diplomatically talked about. This is a regime that has been propping up the butchery of Assad, funding Hamas on an ongoing basis in killing Israelis with the intention of wiping them off the map and killing their own Palestinians, and funding the terror of the Houthis in Yemen. These are not inconvenient side issues not to be mentioned in the House; they actually show how deadly dangerous it would be if Iran were able to realise the long-held ambitions of some in the regime to hold the bomb. So I would like to hear a little more vigour from the Government about what they will do to make sure that sanctions and consequences are re-imposed, and I would like them to say that they will do whatever it takes to stop Iran getting a nuclear bomb.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

The hon. Gentleman is right; he suggests I was being euphemistic, but I spelled out exactly where we have concerns. Those concerns have been raised by Members in all parts of the House and no doubt will continue to be raised; these are very issues whether in Gaza or Lebanon, or indeed Yemen or Syria. We clearly feel that an escalation at this stage as a result of what Iran is proposing to do is precisely the wrong way forward, and we want to find every opportunity to utilise whatever diplomatic weapons we can. That involves acting internationally at the UN, with our EU partners and elsewhere. We will continue to make those efforts, because the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it would be a calamitous escalation if there were any opportunity for Iran to restore and renew its nuclear capabilities.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

Putting aside whether the nuclear deal should be dealt with separately from or in conjunction with Iran’s aggressive behaviour in the wider region, my specific question to the Minister is as follows. He talked about Iran’s profound negative influence in the region, whether in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain or Lebanon—and Morocco recently expelled the Iranian ambassador. The UK holds the pen on Yemen at the UN and knows about Iran’s aggressive behaviour in the region; what specifically will the UK with its partners be doing to check that Iranian aggressive behaviour in the region?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We have only this morning received the letter from Rouhani, and we will reply to it. Fundamentally, we are urging Iran not to take escalatory steps, but to continue to meet all its commitments under the deal and indeed any broader commitments reflecting a country that wants to co-operate with others in the region and internationally. It is too early to talk about the direct consequences, but we are clear that our commitment to the JCPOA requires the full compliance of its obligations by Iran.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

This situation shows the importance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office having stronger teams engaged in international treaties in the area of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Can the Minister reassure me that that is the case, and that even though we want to work together with Iran to ensure that the treaty works in the long term, that will not dissuade us from taking up matters such as human rights, the persecution of minorities in Iran and individuals who are being unjustly detained there?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I can give my hon. Friend a full assurance on that. He makes a good point. It is important, particularly in—dare I say it—a post-Brexit world, that this country should engage as far as it can with a range of international organisations, including the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation, to name but three. On the issue of human rights, the interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur for human rights in Iran took place as recently as 11 March, and the UK’s statement raised concerns about the judicial harassment of human rights defenders, the death penalty for child offenders under the age of 18 and the limits that are placed on freedom of expression, religion and belief. We continue to make those concerns very clear. The Foreign Secretary publicly shared his concerns about the sentencing of Nasrin Sotoudeh on 12 March, and we will regularly raise human rights issues with the Iranian Government at all levels and urge them to cease the harassment and arbitrary detention of all human rights defenders.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

The Minister has given the House a comprehensive list of important international organisations with which the UK must engage. May I add NATO to that list? What conversations has he had recently with our NATO allies with regard to the agreement?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

My list was obviously not entirely comprehensive. My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I look forward to meeting him again in Westminster Hall this afternoon when we shall talk about West Papua in Indonesia. NATO is important, and what is happening in Iran and the potential for escalation on the nuclear side obviously have strong defence implications, so yes, NATO will very much be added to the list of organisations with which we will seek to engage on this globally important matter.