“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 talks between world powers and Iran edged towards a conclusion. The negotiations were hard. 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 a 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 can have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian 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. 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, nor 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. This 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 over 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. Its stockpile of low-enriched uranium will be limited to 300 kilograms, down from more than seven tonnes, 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 R&D or nuclear material will be permitted at Iran’s underground Fordo 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 historic levels of mistrust that have built up between Iran and the international community, a strong inspection 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 additional protocol 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 NPT obligations—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 through the reimposition of sanctions, if Iran violates its NPT obligations at any time. 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 the issues.
Taken together, these 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 these 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, to be clear, this 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 resolution. Important restrictions on import and export of conventional arms and development of ballistic missiles will be reimposed through an annexe to the resolution and lifted only later in the agreement.
These 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 reimposed through a snap-back mechanism, which any party to this agreement can invoke. The EU and the US could also reimpose 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 this agreement in good faith, and all sides must try to resolve together any problems in implementing this deal. But the deal includes robust enforcement provisions, and we will not hesitate to use them if Iran goes back on its word.
Although this agreement is focused solely on Iran’s nuclear programme, 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 opportunities that 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 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 realign its approach in support of the international community’s efforts, in particular in confronting the 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 mean time, 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, 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 this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The Opposition welcome the successful end to the marathon Iran negotiations. It allows us to see a glimmer of light in a world that seems increasingly precarious. We have had challenge after challenge in the field of foreign affairs over the past few years and it is comforting to have a successful outcome which has proved the value of the diplomatic route.
I start by paying tribute to the Foreign Secretary, John Kerry, our European and international partners and everyone involved for their efforts in securing this major diplomatic breakthrough. Neither should we forget President Rouhani, who has had to face down some pretty tough hardliners at home. I ask the Minister to join me in paying particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for her sterling work on this matter during her tenure as High Representative of the EU of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Nobody has worked on this matter more tirelessly than she has. It is a fitting tribute to her, and a part of her legacy, that this agreement has been delivered.
Will the Minister also join me in encouraging the US Congress to endorse this agreement, which would send a positive message about the role of diplomacy in the world? There are some worrying signals coming from the Republicans that they will seek to block this agreement, which I fear would be a mistake. There has long been consensus across these 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. None of us wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon and no one believes that the world would be a safer place were it ever to acquire one.
It is worth reflecting on how much graver the world might have looked today had the Foreign Secretary returned to the House of Commons 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 was right to use the negotiating opportunity that the pressure of sanctions against the Iranian regime has created. That process was not rushed in order to get this right. The important point now is to ensure that this agreement lives up to the words of yesterday’s joint statement by the EU High Representative and the Iranian Foreign Minister: that this,
“is not only a deal but a good deal. And a good deal for all sides”.
The Minister outlined many aspects of the agreement in detail. Let me touch on a number of these. First, Iran has reaffirmed as part of the agreement that,
“under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons”.
This is, of course 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, so I welcome the assurances that thorough and independent inspections are at the heart of this agreement. It is vital that its implementation is based not on faith but on facts, evidence and verification.
Does the Minister agree that, while we should be positive about the implementation of this agreement, we must also go into it with our eyes wide 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 these agreements should be judged not over months but over years. It is therefore right that some sanctions should be removed gradually and only when Iran honours the commitments it has made. Are the Government satisfied that, were Iran to violate the terms of the agreement, the provisions for sanctions to snap back are tough enough to block its path to a nuclear weapon? Does the Minister agree with the words of Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, who said yesterday that this deal represents,
“not a ceiling but a solid 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 the difficulties in our own relationship with Iran, will not go away overnight. However, this agreement does present Iran with the opportunity to play a much more constructive global role. The Statement asserts that,
“we remain realistic about the nature of the Iranian regime and its wider ambitions”.
Could the Minister elucidate what the Government understand by the “wider ambitions” of Iran in the area? The Statement goes on to say:
“Iran will not get a free pass to meddle beyond its borders”.
What exactly is meant by this? Will we stop Iran from any involvement in defeating ISIL or Daesh in Iraq? What exactly are the Government suggesting in terms of the relationship between Assad and Iran, and its provision of arms to Hezbollah? What do the Government intend to do, and how, if they genuinely want to stand by this Statement? Does the Minister agree that opening up better links with Iran will help the process of reform within that country? It needs to include improving its human rights record and the ending of house arrest for opposition leaders.
The Iranians are a gifted people with a large, educated and determined middle class representing one of the world’s great civilisations. There is a real opportunity to reach out and engage with this part of the world and the people living there, and to bring Iran in from the cold. For Britain especially, the Minister mentioned ongoing efforts to reopen our embassy in Tehran. Will she tell us specifically when she expects that to take place?
Working together as an international community is a well-worn phrase, but this moment shows what can be achieved through patience and diplomacy. If history teaches anything, however, it is that peace is a process and not an event. Yesterday, the Iranian President called this a “new chapter”. We all live in hope that it is a new chapter which will help lead to a safer and more peaceful world, free of nuclear weapons. We on this side will continue to support all efforts to make that hope a reality.
My Lords, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome this Statement and welcome enormously the successful conclusion of the negotiations, although we have some reservations about aspects of the Statement and its tone. Within the coalition Government, the Liberal Democrats pressed from the outset for an active exploration of a changed relationship with Iran. It has a very complex political system in which there are some very nasty and hardline elements, but also some elements of civil society and a desperate desire, particularly among the urban population, for a reopening of its relationship with the rest of the world.
We should pay tribute in particular to the Americans who led this negotiation and to the enormous efforts which Wendy Sherman, the American negotiator, put in. We should also recognise the enormous efforts which Cathy Ashton made as the EU negotiator. I would welcome the Minister marking the fact that this has been a triumph for European co-operation in foreign policy rather than simply a British effort. I noted in the last Statement made on the European Council that the Prime Minister said that we wanted to return the European Union to its original fundamentals as a customs union. The EU, in its original fundamentals, was never just a customs union; it was always about foreign policy, co-operation and security. The Government need to make that clear as they negotiate for EU reform.
We have some reservations about the suggestion that the origins of these negotiations lie in the revelation in 2003 that Iran was considering nuclear activities.
In 2003, the year of the invasion of Iraq, the Iranians offered to reopen negotiations with the United States and the European countries on a closer relationship, which the Americans blocked off. The then Labour Government, to their shame, simply followed the American lead, as so often they did in that period of an American Republican Administration, and we missed what seemed to many of us to be an opportunity for an earlier transformation of the relationship.
It being a principle in good international relations, we have to recognise that you need to understand how your opponent sees the world. At that point, the Iranians had seen, first, American and European support for Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, which was a very bloody war, and, secondly, the western invasion and occupation of Iraq just next door to them. Not surprisingly, the Iranian regime—nasty though it was in many ways—felt threatened. Therefore, after 10 years of very difficult negotiations, we come to a position where we have not entirely secured the abolition of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran.
We recognise that this is a compromise on which there are things still to be done. However, there is now the opportunity for a gradual change in the climate. We should like to hear from the Minister how far the Government recognise that this offers the opportunity for a transformation of our relationship with the complexities of the various Middle East conflicts and the Iranian role in them.
I thought that it was extremely unwise of the Israeli Prime Minister to suggest that this was a disaster and that Iran represented an existential threat. The other week I heard an Israeli Minister refer to Saudi Arabia as a moderate state and the Iranians as evil. That seems enormously mistaken. Clearly, Iran does meddle well beyond its borders, but there are many other states in the Middle East which also meddle beyond their borders, supporting other terrorist, Sunni organisations. We need to be concerned about that as well.
As Liberal Democrats within the coalition, one of our concerns was that the Government risked being caught on the hardline Sunni side of a developing Sunni/Shia conflict. I hope the Minister will reassure us that the Government are determined not to be caught there and that our interests are in promoting an easier relationship between Iran and the Sunni autocracies to which we are so close. We still sell too many weapons to those heavily armed states. I hope she will say that we will now be pushing for a transformation as we deal with the multiple threats from ISIS and from other terrorist groups across the Middle East.
My Lords, I thank both Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, with whom I was very privileged to work in coalition—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. I thank them for their support throughout this process. It has been an extremely long process and it has been difficult for political parties to remain united over that period. The seriousness with which all parties and their leaders have continued their commitment to it shows the major role that the UK plays, not only in the world but in trying to ensure that the world remains at peace without nuclear intervention.
It is with great pleasure that I recognise the remarkable role and patience of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, as high representative of the External Action Service of the European Union. One watched her attend meetings month after month, year after year and through the night. She always looked commendably and diplomatically in charge of events. We have much to thank her for.
I turn to specific questions from noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, asked whether I was concerned about the role of the United States Congress. Clearly, there is now a period in which Congress has to consider the matter, at the end of which it can express its view. It is a matter for the United States Congress. I would not interfere in its events, just as I would not wish it to interfere here. We await the outcome with interest. All these matters can proceed only once a United Nations resolution has been achieved.
I was also asked whether I agreed that what had been achieved were thorough, independent inspections and verifications, and that those were at the core of everything. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. She also had a degree of realism—it may be painful, but we have to keep our eyes wide open for at least 10 years. This agreement has been won after such a hard struggle; we must not let any of it slip.
With regard to snap-back, am I assured that it is tough enough to block the way to the obtaining of nuclear weapons? Yes, I am. The process of snap-back is robust because it is structured in such a way that it reserves the powers of all the P5 of the UNSC to snap back to the original sanctions in the event of any violation by Iran. Of course, in any event, if either the EU or the US thought that there had been a violation, they could impose their own sanctions as well.
Iran’s wider ambitions were referred to by both the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. It is crucial that we consider the wider interests of the region. Throughout this process, I have always said that it is important that we are able to welcome Iran back into the international community, but that welcome has to be tempered by a realism that Iran has ambitions. I agree with the implication behind the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that it is important that all parts of the international community work with Iran so that we can work towards an easier relationship between Sunni and Shia, as I believe he put it. That is what we should all aim to achieve.
I am already reassured to some extent by the measured tone that we have heard from Saudi Arabia in its reactions to the signing of this agreement. That is, indeed, promising. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we hope this may lead to our undertaking further work with Iran in encouraging it to act responsibly as part of the work that the coalition does, not necessarily as part of the coalition but working towards the same end, in dealing with the threat of ISIL—or, as some prefer to call it, Daesh.
Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked me whether this agreement makes it easier for us to have relationships with Iran. I very much hope that it does, but again with our eyes wide open. As I mentioned in the Statement, this will not stop us speaking out against human rights abuses in Iran, but our current work and the fact that we will have a base eventually, when the embassy reopens, gives us a much better opportunity to interact with the people in Iran and to make sure that information is more readily available. With regard to the opening of the embassy, there are still technical problems with regard not to re-equipping but actually to equipping the embassy after it was emptied. However, we are hoping that will be achieved by the end of this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked me whether the UK had an interest in not only promoting the easier relationship between Sunni and Shia, but also ensuring that we are able to work with countries in the wider community in the region in order to allay their concerns. I hear the concerns that President Netanyahu of Israel has already expressed and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will travel there tomorrow to discuss the implications with him.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, teased me a little about the position of the Conservative Party vis-à-vis the European Union. I have always made it very clear that I find it very helpful to work through the European Union both with regard to negotiations such as these and certainly with regard to work in the United Nations. The E3—the UK, France and Germany—have been at the heart of these negotiations since the Foreign Ministers visited Tehran in October 2003, launching the process that culminated in yesterday’s agreement. That says it all.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests as chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. First, in judging this deal, does the noble Baroness think it important to point out that 10 years of sanctions did not succeed in reducing the total number of centrifuges, which during that period increased from 3,000 to 22,000, and that the only alternative to a negotiated settlement was military intervention and the use of force, which would have been disastrous? Secondly, she referred to possible past dimensions of the Iranian military programme, and said that they would be settled later. How far have the Iranian Government gone in committing themselves to allow these matters to be investigated, and does she have complete confidence that this will happen? Thirdly, does she agree that it is extremely encouraging that President Rouhani, who took the unprecedented step of opening public negotiations with the United States for the first time since 1979, has said that he sees the agreement as just the first step towards better relations between the Islamic republic and the wider world?
My Lords, I will deal with the latter point first. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, quoted the Foreign Minister with regard to the fact that the attitude in Iran is that this is the starting point, not the ceiling. This is not where we finish but where we start—and there is a great deal to do, to put it mildly. In response to my noble friend, it would be improper for me to give details about where the negotiations are and identifying past activities, but those discussions continue. What I can certainly say is that with regard to implementation of the terms of the agreement, Iran will provide access to the IAEA in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the transparency provisions of the deal. So access has to happen. If anybody feels that there is any collusion or obstruction, there are ways in which that can be resolved by the joint commission—and, if necessary, we can go back to sanctions.
With regard to access to the wider investment in Iran, the fact is that all the preparations for developing nuclear capability went on while there were sanctions, but look what it did to the rest of the country. This agreement will allow the rest of the country to begin to thrive again.
My Lords, I hesitate to dampen the euphoria expressed in London and Washington in relation to this agreement, but are there not certain harsh realities of which we should remind ourselves? The first is that Iran is still solemnly and totally committed to the destruction of the State of Israel—a factor that may not be irrelevant to the condemnatory words of Benjamin Netanyahu. Secondly, despite all the restrictions, Iran—which is a theocratic state—is within a short step of becoming a lethal nuclear power, should it so wish.
My Lords, there is no short step to becoming a lethal nuclear power. This is a robust, durable, verifiable agreement and any breakout would certainly take at least a year to achieve. It would be noticed very quickly and sanctions would come back. That is why this deal is so effective. I would say that there is no euphoria but a recognition that this is a tremendous success after so much work. There is also a realisation that Iran has much to do to become accepted as a viable international state.
My Lords, in the Statement which the noble Baroness repeated, she said that the IAEA and Iran had agreed what I believe she called a road map of actions to implement the agreement. Can she tell us whether this road map is in the public domain and, if so, whether she will ensure that it goes into the Library of the House? Secondly, I declare an interest as chair of the Saudi-British Joint Business Council. In the repeated Statement, the noble Baroness also referred to “developing confidence and trust” in the region. She said that the Foreign Secretary will be going to Israel to discuss matters already raised on the Floor of the House. Can she tell us about the other state that has expressed a good deal of difficulty over this agreement? Notwithstanding what she said a moment or two ago about Saudi Arabia, there are enormous concerns there about this agreement. What steps are the Government taking to assure Saudi Arabia that we are aware of its difficulties with this and that we are prepared to work with it on those points?
My Lords, through diplomatic channels we are having discussions with a range of states, and clearly Saudi Arabia is an important player in that area with which we have close and enduring relationships and for which we have respect. We may disagree on many of its policies but we certainly agree that it has concerns and that it needs to maintain its national defence. Certainly, those discussions proceed, and that goes more widely.
The noble Baroness asked whether I would put into the domain details about how the road map might be developed. The steps for Iran to take in the PMD road map are not public but I can say that there will be an increasing opportunity as we have these questions and debates to put on the record further details about the way in which there are robust controls over what happens if Iran were to break its word. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary began to do that yesterday in discussions with the press, and that will continue in the way in which Ministers seek to keep both Houses informed.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness be kind enough to tell us a little more about the timing of the implementation over the next year or so of this deal? In particular, can she tell us about the effect that would be applied to the deal if the United States Congress were to fail to endorse it? As she said quite rightly, that is a matter for Congress—but would it be the case that if it failed to endorse it, that would bring the whole thing to a grinding halt and we would be back to square one? It would come as no surprise to any of us who observed the hysterical and overexcited way in which Congress greeted Mr Netanyahu when he was there—he is of course strongly opposed to this deal—if Congress decided not to endorse the deal.
My Lords, there are indeed many steps in the process by which we can reach the stage when we get to the transition period. There is a whole series of days: finalisation, adoption, implementation and transition days, and UNSCR termination day, which is 10 years after the anniversary of implementation day. This is to ensure that the terms of the agreement are kept to by Iran and that we do not allow the sanctions to be lifted too soon. Some of the sanctions, such as those with regard to arms and ballistic missiles, will take some years to lift.
My noble friend asked me specifically about the United States. My understanding is that Congress has up to 60 days to review the deal. As for Congress not approving the deal, it is not for me to advise the United States how their President might act but I rather suspect that this is such an important deal that the United States will find a way of agreeing with the other signatories, and that the agreement will take effect.
My Lords, despite the necessary uncertainties about long-term destinations from what happened yesterday, is not one thing certain? We now have an opportunity to build a more stable Middle East that did not exist two days ago, for which much thanks. Is it not good also to recognise that that has been achieved through long-term, patient diplomacy, which stands in stark contrast to a Middle East policy that is otherwise fixated on the instant gratification of high explosives, and that this departure is also much to be pursued?
My Lords, I am always pleased to be able to celebrate the importance and effect of diplomacy. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord said about the opportunity for a more stable Middle East.
I am reminded by those who advise me that when, in response to my noble friend Lord Jopling, I was reading out the number of days—the finalisation, adoption, implementation, transition and UNSCR termination days—I should have said for clarity that UNSCR termination comes 10 years after adoption day, not implementation day.
My Lords, as an Iranian-born Member of this House I welcome this decision, in particular in the name of the people of Iran if the sanctions are removed on medication and food, because the poor in Tehran and the rest of Iran are starving. However, I am very grateful that the Government are remaining vigilant on human rights issues and I urge them to continue, because Iranian human rights measures are absolutely deplorable.
I can assure the noble Baroness that we will continue our pressure on the human rights record in Iran, which really bears no scrutiny because it is so poor. With regard to the suffering of the Iranian people, she is right to draw attention to the fact that sanctions have not affected medicines over this period.
My Lords, this is historic but risky because of the history of deception by Iran and the linkages between the Revolutionary Guards and arch-proliferators such as North Korea. Do we expect that this agreement will lead to any spillover, for example into Yemen where Iran has had a very malign influence? What reassurances have we given the Gulf states, including more military assistance, to help them over the interim period? The Minister mentioned the embassy. If our businessmen are to take full advantage of the new openings, surely an embassy would help immeasurably?
My Lords, as I mentioned earlier, there are still obstacles in the way of reopening the embassy but we are working very hard on them in discussions with Iran and we hope to reopen it by the end of the year. The noble Lord is right that that will help businesses from around the world, particularly the UK, to operate there. However, businesses are right to be circumspect about how soon they go in and the circumstances under which they can operate. I am sure there will be lot of caution. I think I have already made it clear that we are talking to countries in the area through our posts and also sometimes through ministerial contacts with regard to the implications of this agreement. Clearly, our diplomatic work since last summer with regard to Yemen has been trying to ensure that there is no spillover into what appears at times to be a proxy war.
My Lords, while we have no illusions about the continuous malign influence of certain Iranian groups in the Middle East, should we not recognise that if things were to go the other way or this deal were to be blocked, that would probably trigger the opening of a major nuclear arms race in the region? As it is, if this deal holds, can we not look in the other direction and begin to think about a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone, which has long been the ambition of many? I urge my noble friend to encourage her colleagues to make that a priority for the future despite the obvious difficulties.
As always, I listen very carefully to my noble friend. He has great wisdom in this area. I agree with him with regard to the importance of ensuring that an arms race is not started and that blocking this deal could have achieved exactly that. With regard to the Middle East weapons-free zone, I had discussions about this when I was at RevCon in New York a couple of months ago—and I am grateful again to the Opposition for ensuring that I was able to go with their support during that period of purdah. I am afraid that progress was rather disrupted because of Egypt seeking to make it impossible for Israel to take part in those discussions—at least it appeared to try to make that impossible—by saying that if Israel did not turn up on specified dates the whole thing would go ahead without it. There is a lot of difficulty internationally in taking forward the idea of a Middle East weapons-free zone but I agree with my noble friend that we should try to do so.
My Lords, the noble Baroness and Her Majesty’s Government deserve our congratulations and so do our partners in this project, which we hope will lead to an enduring settlement. The Minister said on more than one occasion that if things did not turn out right it would take Iran at least 12 months to secure a weapon. Does history not show us that the ability to procure such a weapon is based on gross national product and nuclear engineering and the associated science and technology? Is the implication of what she is saying that we recognise Iran already has those assets?
My Lords, I certainly appreciate that the noble Lord has experience and is right to be cynical. However, the agreement takes into account several factors relating to how Iran could re-equip and get fissile material, and what we can do to stop that. For example, with regard to Iraq, the international joint venture will assist Iran in redesigning and rebuilding a modernised heavy-water research reactor in Iraq which will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, thus removing it from the picture. Fuel will be exported and Iran will not undertake reprocessing. Fordow will be converted into a nuclear physics and technology centre, and the IAEA will have daily access to it—not just every now and then, but daily access. We will be watching.
What confidence can the Minister give the House that verification will work, given that 24 days’ notice has to be given to Iran of an inspection, which even then may be refused by a commission? Surely, of course, only a very short-notice inspection would be worth it, given Iran’s history of secret nuclear development. Why does she think that Iran has insisted on retaining and working on many thousands of centrifuges? What on earth can its motive be, if that state wishes to keep those thousands of centrifuges?
My Lords, as I think I explained in the Statement, the number of centrifuges is dramatically reduced, as is fissile material. What we have aimed at in this agreement is that Iran should still be able to have a civil need for use of reactors but not a military one. That is what we believe has been achieved. As for whether Iran can break out quickly, and the time between it being noticed and reported that something is going wrong and action being taken—how long it would take between a request from the IAEA to get access and being able to insist on access—it would typically take about 21 days between demand and access. There is, then, a very clear process that has to be followed, which I am happy to discuss with the noble Baroness in detail outside the Chamber, given the time available. Of course, the breakout period cannot be achieved except in a period of over a year. We have time to prevent breakout into a future with Iran having a nuclear weapon. It will not happen.
My Lords, I welcome the agreement, which is obviously the fruit of a great deal of extremely hard work and hard negotiation. I think that most noble Lords will agree with me that the proof of its adequacy will be in implementation. This is one of those agreements where the words are fine but it is the actions that follow that will really matter. I hope that all parties to it, particularly the European parties, will be robust in checking any backsliding. One worry of those who would like to see this agreement succeed is that somehow, Iran will be allowed to get away with things along the line and the robust reaction will not take place because it is all too difficult and unpalatable. I seek some reassurance on robustness.
My other point, alluded to by the noble Baroness who spoke previously, is on verification. Surely, this agreement depends crucially on adequate verification, and I worry that there seems to be an ability on Iran’s part not only to challenge but to block verification proceedings. There seems to be a road through which they will be able to prevent the IAEA providing us with the necessary reassurances. How can we ensure that this joint commission, to which I gather such issues will be referred, can cut through something like that? How can we get round Iran blocking something by language and words, and get it to fall into line?
We get round language and words by having the ability to have a snap-back on sanctions within the United Nations at any time, and the EU and the United States can do so themselves with their sanctions. My noble friend is right, however, to ask about the process. The joint commission makes its decision by consensus. Obviously, it can do it by majority. What I can say, of course, is that it is important that Iran is on that joint commission so that it can engage with and respond to any suspected issues of non-performance. It can represent its interests in the same way as all other members of the joint commission. But the fact is that if there is a disagreement over whether something is a serious breach, or if Iran were unwise enough to block the IAEA access to which my noble friend refers, it is still possible for the sanctions to be snapped back. That is the prize that Iran has sought: that there should be an end to sanctions. The prize that we have sought has been to make sure that this world does not face a nuclear weapon-holding state in Iran. I think that the prize for Iran and the prize for the rest of the world has been achieved.