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Middle East: Security Update - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 4:01 pm on 7th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State 4:01 pm, 7th January 2020

With the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement given in another place this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the security situation in the Middle East. I have deep regard for the nation of Iran and I chaired the Iran APPG for eight years in the House before joining the Government. It is a wonderful place with a dynamic population. The world owes a great deal to its culture and its history.

However, in recent times, Iran has felt that its intentions are best served through the nefarious use of proxies and the use of subversion as a foreign policy tool. It has provided practical military support to the murderous Assad regime in Syria, stoked conflict in Yemen, armed militia groups in Iraq and repeatedly harassed international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. It has also shown a total disregard for human rights, holding dual nationals in prison and causing unimaginable suffering to not just those in jail but their families at home. Such behaviour does nothing to enhance Iran’s reputation with its neighbours and has had a seriously destabilising impact in the region.

One of the foremost architects of Iran’s malign activity was the Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. One of its commanders and its leading enabler was General Qasem Soleimani who, on 2 January, was killed by a US drone strike. General Soleimani was no friend of the UK or our allies in the region. He was not an advocate of a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East. His clandestine operations saw him supply weaponry to proxy forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He encouraged proxies to develop weapons such as improvised explosive devices that killed and maimed UK soldiers and other western forces. Nor should we forget how he fomented instability in places such as Basra where British forces were stationed. The United States Government have asserted that Soleimani organised the strikes on 27 December by militia group Kata’ib Hezbollah which targeted a US military base in Kirkuk, Iraq, and killed a US civilian contractor. The US is confident that Soleimani came to Baghdad to co-ordinate imminent attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.

The UK will always defend the right of countries to defend themselves. The House will want to know that, since October 2019, coalition bases, which contain both US and UK personnel, and the Baghdad International Zone have been attacked 14 times. One attack on the K1 base involved 32 rockets. Our challenge now, however, is to deal with the situations we find ourselves in. The US has consistently shown restraint, even when its right to self-defence was well established. Since the early hours of Friday morning, the Government have responded to these events. Further conflict is in no one’s interests. The only beneficiaries would be terrorists and extremists seeking to use chaos as a cover to advance their abhorrent objectives, so we are urging all people—all parties—to de-escalate as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the safety and security of British citizens and our interests in the region are of paramount concern. The FCO has strengthened its travel advice to both Iran and Iraq, and will keep it under constant review. We urge British nationals in the region or those intending to travel to regularly check the GOV.UK website for further updates. We have taken other urgent measures to protect British nationals and interests. The Department for Transport is reviewing the threat state and advice to Red Ensign shipping on a daily basis, supported by the MoD. We will issue guidance imminently. At the same time, Defence is changing the readiness of our forces, including having helicopters and ships on standby to assist if the need arises. To ensure the safety and security of our personnel, we have also relocated non-essential personnel from Baghdad to Taji. Coalition forces in Iraq, including British forces, have suspended all training activities and, as part of prudent planning, a small team has been sent to the region to provide additional situational awareness and contingency planning assistance.

On 5 January, Iraq’s Council of Representatives voted to end permissions for coalition activities in Iraq. As the vote is only one part of the process, we are discussing the implications with our Iraqi interlocutors. Today I simply remind this House that the coalition is in Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi Government, to help protect Iraqis and others against the very real threat of Daesh. Our commitment to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty is unwavering and we urge the Iraqi Government to ensure that the coalition is able to continue our vital work countering this shared threat.

The main focus of the UK Government is to de-escalate this issue. None of us wants conflict. None of us wants our citizens, our friends and our allies to be put at risk. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, from the outset, has spoken with President Trump, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and President Erdoğan, and will continue to engage all leaders. The Foreign Secretary and I have been talking to our counterparts and only this morning I met His Royal Highness the Saudi Vice-Minister for Defence; in tandem, we are working with the E3 to reboot the JCPOA, the nuclear deal which we believe is a vital step to achieving a more stable Iran. In the coming days, we will be doing all we can to encourage Iran to take a different path. No one should be under any illusion that, long before the death of General Soleimani, Iran had stepped up its destabilising activity in the region. Whether it was targeting dissidents in Europe or hijacking civilian ships, this aggressive behaviour was never going to go unchallenged. Her Majesty’s Government urge Iran to return to the normal behaviour of the country it aspires to be and to resist the urge to retaliate.”

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 4:08 pm, 7th January 2020

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Each actor engaged in this tension has, as the Minister said, a shared ambition to avoid conflict at all costs. It is that objective which should be our immediate focus. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has sought to reflect this, and I urge the Government to reiterate the importance of restraint in all diplomatic communications.

Our focus must be on how we can restore relations in the coming weeks. In doing so, we must encourage all leaders to interact through international institutions and use these as our primary mechanism for defusing the situation.

The immediate priority should be restoring an element of calm between Iran and the US in the interests of global stability. The UK can play a part by distancing itself from President Trump’s unhelpful threats relating to the targeting of cultural sites, which of course is in breach of international law, and making it clear to Tehran that President Trump’s operation in Baghdad last week was unilateral and we had no part in planning or developing it.

The unpredictable nature of present events creates danger in itself, and the UK can help to avert this by affirming our commitment to the United Nations as a means of peace and exploring options available there to find a solution. Although this is primarily a tension involving Iran and our allies across the Atlantic, if it should escalate, it could impact on all our lives. Of course, in the interests of our own national security, the UK must remain fully engaged with our allies in NATO and in constant communication. I know that noble Lords will be aware of the announcement made yesterday by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg relating to the suspension of training operations in Iraq. It is in the interests of all involved that such operations can restart as soon as possible, and the affirmation to this effect by Stoltenberg yesterday should be welcomed. I hope that the Minister will detail what steps are being taken by the UK and our NATO allies to enable this.

It is imperative that the UK can maintain a trusting relationship with the Government and the people of Iraq, not only for the sake of immediate global and regional stability but to enable us to ensure that the global coalition continues to defeat Daesh. The decision of the Iraqi Parliament to pass a resolution potentially leading to the departure of UK troops must be respected, and we must make it clear that we understand the sovereignty of the state of Iraq. However, in doing so, we must demonstrate the value that British troops can bring to the fight against such evil and ask the Parliament to reconsider. I heard what the Minister said about a process and our commitment to work with the Government of Iraq, but we must also make the case for our engagement and not simply demand it from the Government. We should take heed of the resolution as a warning that the UK’s presence is granted and not given, but the UK must now move to assure the Government of Iraq that continued operations are to the benefit of both partners as well as of global security. In the meantime, the Government must evaluate whether existing UK personnel are safe and take steps to protect them. I note what the Minister said about the relocation of non-essential staff, but can he explain to the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure that all personnel in Iraq are secure as possible?

The coming weeks will be crucial for global security. Amid the hyperbole, there is a vacuum for a voice to promote restraint and defend international law and institutions. It is the UK that should be that voice; it should be the UK that advocates reason and calm. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the Government will engage with Parliament in the coming days and weeks as the situation develops. I hope that there will be a Statement following the meeting of the National Security Council and that the Minister will give the commitment that we are engaged in this process.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This is an exceptionally dangerous situation. Soleimani clearly had a terrible reputation. He had blood on his hands and had played a key part in destabilising the region. The Iranian regime has much to answer for. However, Trump’s action has destabilised a tinderbox region even further. What do the Government understand to be the legal basis—in international law, not US domestic law, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned on Sunday—for this drone strike? Are there any circumstances in which the UK considers it legal to use drones to assassinate a perceived threat? The Statement says that the US “asserted” and “is confident” of its position. That is very interesting language. Does the UK share these views, and does it have evidence for that?

The European route has been to seek to bring Iran in, with engagement through the JCPOA. Trump’s actions may have finally destroyed that. The Statement mentions rebooting the JCPOA. How is this to be done? This is the first major test of the Government’s new foreign policy, which is to remove us from the European Union and to draw closer to the US. The Statement says:

“Our challenge now … is to deal with the situation we find ourselves in.”

That does not sound like we are leading or in control.

Given that the UK is closely allied to the US in Iraq and the Gulf, what explanation has the US given for not informing the UK? Is it the case that they informed only Israel, even though other countries might also be affected? What evidence is there that the US thought through the short, medium and long-term consequences of its actions? Does the UK agree?

Does the Minister agree that this action benefits the hardliners in Iran and Iraq and that the protesters in both those countries, who were seeking a less corrupt, less sectarian way forward, will now have their voices drowned out?

Does the Minister agree that dual nationals, such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, are now in even more difficult circumstances? What comfort can the Government give to her and her family, as well as to our own troops and those working in the region?

The UK and the US base their operations against Daesh, and in relation to Syria, from Iraq. The Government clearly recognise the risk here. What happens if the Iraqi Government decide to implement the parliament’s decision and ask foreign forces to leave? What does this mean for the battle against Daesh?

Some 30% of the world’s oil supply goes through the Strait of Hormuz, and I note what the Statement says. However, does the Minister think that shipping can be adequately protected, as he describes? What alternative routes are there? He will have seen how targeted the attacks on Saudi Aramco were. What is the result of discussions held with the GCC countries about scaling this crisis down? Iran has significant cyber capabilities and has tested these out in attacks on western countries. Is the Minister aware of the Iranian- linked attempt on Parliament, shortly after the US attack?

President Trump has stated that the US has identified 52 sites in Iran to target in the event of Iranian retaliation. Does the UK know what they are? Is the US discussing this with us? Have we sought reassurance that no Iranian cultural sites will be targeted in any future action?

This is a very dangerous moment, when the dangers of the Trump presidency when dealing with the Middle East tinderbox, are clear for all to see. I look forward to comprehensive answers from the Minister, who I know fully understands the huge risks that we all now face.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their comments and contributions, particularly the support and words of the noble Lord. They both know—as I am sure all noble Lords do—the importance of restraint and ensuring that we de-escalate this crisis. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that, as was said in the Statement and made clear in statements by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Defence, our priority is ensuring that we call on all sides for restraint at this important time.

On ensuring that all multilateral international organisations play a role, when I was preparing to deliver the Statement I noted the statements that were made by the Secretary-Generals of NATO and the United Nations. The noble Baroness referred to the importance of our partners in the Middle East. It is important to stress the need for restraint on all sides: she will have noticed that we continue to work closely with our European partners in the E3 statement that was issued after the meeting. As I said in the Statement, the Prime Minister has spoken to various leaders around the world who are directly involved, including the President of the US and the Iraqi Prime Minister.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the important role that the United Kingdom has played and continues to play in bringing stability to Iraq and the wider region. When I visited Iraq 18 months or so ago, I saw the important role the UK was playing in this, as well as the importance of the various UN missions. I am assured that, thus far, the important work of UNITAD continues. This is important in ensuring that we bring to justice those who have committed heinous crimes during the Iraq conflict.

The noble Lord asked about other partners. As noble Lords will know, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has travelled to Brussels and intends to travel to the US later this week. We are keeping directly engaged with the US and other key partners on these issues. He raised the issue of NATO. While it makes its own assessment, as a key player in NATO we will continue to liaise with all NATO partners.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the importance of safety and security of personnel. I have detailed, to the extent I can, some of the changes we have effected on the ground. Our embassies in Tehran and Baghdad remain open; however, we have taken all necessary steps to ensure the security of our personnel operating in those countries. He asked me to keep the House updated, and I shall seek to do so as we move forward. The important point to emphasise here—I totally agree with the noble Lord—is the importance of de-escalation and bringing down tensions.

I say to the noble Baroness, who asked about the JCPOA, that we have reiterated in our various exchanges, including with Foreign Minister Zarif, the importance of returning to the table on the JCPOA. She will be aware that, before the death of General Soleimani, the Iranians had already increased their non-co-operation: their level of co-operation on the JCPOA had decreased, but we have again stressed the importance of keeping that particular diplomatic door very much open.

The noble Baroness asked about our contacts with our European partners in a post-Brexit Britain. She will be reassured by the fact that we have shown consistency with our previous approach and have worked with E3 partners, namely Germany and France, in issuing statements, and by the fact that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is visiting Brussels today. That underlines again the importance of that relationship.

The noble Baroness raised concerns, which I share, about the increased influence of hardliners in Iran, as well as the safety and security of dual nationals, which has been a cause of understandable concern in your Lordships’ House. I share her concerns: that is why, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are seeking to play a primary and key role in ensuring de-escalation at this crucial stage.

The noble Baroness specifically asked about security for our shipping. I assure her that we have assets in place. I gave a sense or a flavour of the number of assets we have by which we seek to continue to protect the Strait of Hormuz; of course, we are keeping that situation under review.

The issue of cultural sites was raised by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. I think we have had a clarification from the US Defense Secretary on this issue, and I am sure that that statement provides reassurance to noble Lords in that respect.

On international co-operation with Arab partners, I again stress that we have seen statements from various Arab leaders, including organisations within the Arab world, which reflect the importance of de-escalation and bringing greater calm to the region.

If there are other specific questions which I have not answered, I will pick up on them and respond to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord in writing.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop 4:25 pm, 7th January 2020

My Lords, would the Minister agree that the “Thought for the Day” by the Bishop of Loughborough this morning on BBC Radio 4, available on the Sounds app, shone an important light on this matter? She came to this country as an Iranian refugee following the murder of her brother, and what she was pointing to was that in the context of the immediate crisis we must not lose sight of the fact that Iran has a very rich and long history as a seat of civilisation, and that we should not tar the entire country and culture with one brush.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his intervention. He quoted the Bishop of Loughborough, and I agree with her. In the Statement, I made the point about the importance of Iran’s rich cultural history. Indeed, I know for a fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has also emphasised this during various visits. As said in the Statement, he headed up the APPG on Iran. While we are looking at this crisis in terms of de-escalation, I am sure it is also not lost, as we reflect on the sombre nature of the exchanges we are having, that today we also learned—and our ambassador has conveyed condolences over this—that during the funeral procession for General Soleimani over 40 people were crushed in the stampede today. We should not forget the human element in these conflicts. For your Lordships’ information, Her Majesty’s ambassador has expressed his condolences to all the families impacted.

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests as the unremunerated chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce.

I agree with the noble Lord that General Soleimani was obviously no angel and no friend to Britain, although it is worth recalling that he twice fought on the side of the Americans against a common enemy, until America decided that it did not want him. Is not the only way of judging this act to judge whether it makes the world a safer or a more dangerous place? Is it not the case, as the Minister has been hinting, that if the US is forced to withdraw troops from Iraq then the fight against ISIS will be much weakened and ISIS may revive? Is it not also the case that, if Iran sees itself as having been backed into a corner and able to reply only with commensurate action, then the United States is likely to take further action, deterrents will have totally failed and the cycle of violence will be reinforced? Lastly, has not this action very largely united an Iranian population who not so long ago were protesting and rioting against their Government? Can the Minister convince us that there is an American strategy here, or is this just the law of the jungle?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, I am not here to answer on behalf of the US Administration. What I can do is talk of the responses of Her Majesty’s Government to the situation on the ground. I agree with the sentiments of my noble friend, who obviously has deep insight into Iran, about the actions we have seen—including the killing of General Soleimani. It is for that reason that we have stressed, and continue to stress, the importance of de-escalating and reducing tensions in this area. He makes the point—I, he and all noble Lords have witnessed the scenes from Iran—that the hardliners in Iran have clearly been given a stronger voice. However, as I said in the Statement and as my noble friend acknowledged, Soleimani was no friend of the West.

We must now deal with the situation in front of us. Therefore, it is important that the UK uses its influence with our partners in Europe through the E3, as I have already said. We are working with the United States and updating regularly; as I have said, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is travelling to the US and we will seek to keep the House advised of future developments. However, I am sure my noble friend agrees with me that it is now important to call for not just calm but de-escalation from all sides.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, no one here mourns the death of such a man of blood. It is understandable that the Foreign Secretary called for restraint and de-escalation, but does the Minister agree that, in situations such as this, it is often helpful to try to imagine what would happen if the reverse were true? For example, if a US Vice-President or Secretary of State were assassinated by an Iranian or an Iranian proxy in the Middle East, would we call for restraint?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I agree with the noble Lord on the importance of restraint. At this time and with the sensitive nature of what is in front of us, it would certainly be inappropriate for me to speculate on situations. I stress again the importance of de-escalation and of keeping diplomatic channels open at all levels.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister turn his attention for a moment to northern Iraq and Kurdistan, which I visited last month? In particular, is he aware that reactivated ISIS cells killed more than 30 Peshmerga soldiers during the course of December and that they were simultaneously fighting Iranian-backed proxies—Shabak groups armed by Iran—in Nineveh? Given that the vulnerable minorities they have been protecting, including people such as the Yazidis, are facing further genocide, can the Minister say what we can do to work with the Kurdish regional Government to give them reasonable protection and to do what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said earlier: bring to justice those responsible for these appalling crimes against humanity and genocide, who believe that they can continue to act in the way they have done with impunity because we are incapable of upholding international law, which is why we descend into cycles of assassination and revenge?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for keeping me updated on various issues during the Christmas break. I expected nothing less in terms of the questions he asked, and I look forward to our more detailed sit-down to discuss some of the issues he has raised.

The noble Lord is quite right to raise the important issue of the situation in northern Syria. He also mentioned the KRI region. First, I will reflect Foreign Office advice. When it comes to the KRI, we are saying that non-essential travel should not be taken up, but, if travel is essential, stability continues to prevail in the KRI and we continue to offer support.

The noble Lord knows the importance of bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. Therefore, during conversations between my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Iraqi Prime Minister, we emphasised again that, while we respect the Iraqi Parliament’s decision, we want to ensure both that there is no withdrawal of either US or UK troops, as limited as UK troop numbers are, and that, in a wider respect, the positive impact on the ground of the measures we have taken—in beginning to see accountability and justice for the victims of crimes, particularly those committed by Daesh—is not lost because of these particular actions. I assure noble Lords that we are doing all we can through all necessary channels to keep that very much on the table.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend will know that President Trump and his Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo, justified the drone attack by reference to the principle of self-defence in international law. Will my noble friend tell the House whether the Government have seen any material that justifies that assertion? Furthermore, does my noble friend agree that, if Mr Trump or the American Government were deliberately to use disproportionate force—or deliberately target sites of cultural importance, for that matter—they would be in clear breach of international law?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, on the second point made by my noble friend, again I am sure that he has seen the statement made, I believe, yesterday by Secretary of State Pompeo in which he emphasised how important it was that the actions of the US will adhere to international law. On the issue of taking action in self-defence, as I have said, this was a matter very much for the US and I am not going to second guess from the Dispatch Box that assessment. However, it is certainly our view that, while we do not doubt that there were plans for imminent attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, I should reiterate that, rather than speculate about what has happened, our focus should be on seeking to ensure that we de-escalate at this time.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as a result of this reckless unilateralist act by President Trump, Iranian and Russian influence in the region is likely to increase—and what does that do for British influence?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

As regards Iranian influence, we have sought to keep our diplomatic channels open and to engage with the Iranian Administration. It is important to ensure, in the situation we are facing, that extremist and terrorist elements in the wider region do not gain greater momentum—that must be the primary concern at this time—and that the alliances that have been forged to date continue to have an effect on the ground. As I saw for myself on my visit to Iraq, there are real and tangible positive measures and steps that have been taken, and achievements on the ground. I hope that those are not lost, and therefore we will continue to engage proactively to ensure that the situation in Iraq does not descend into further turmoil. It is important that we de-escalate, which is why we have called for all sides to look at any further action they may take, because any further action that increases tensions in Iraq will lead only to the very forces mentioned by the noble Lord gaining greater ground—and none of us desires that.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, so far we have been discussing this issue in purely western terms. Does my noble friend agree that in fact the rising powers of Asia have enormous and growing interests and influence in the region? Can he reassure us that, besides consulting those in Washington who have perpetrated this act and besides him visiting Brussels, our Foreign Office officials and his colleagues will be in touch with the real powers in Asia whose interests, as I say, are directly affected by what is happening in Iran and who have a major part to play?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

Let me assure my noble friend, who we all know from his time as a Foreign Office Minister, that we are all engaging with key partners to provide reassurance. For example, in my conversations earlier today I spoke directly to the Afghani Foreign Minister. As I mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister has also spoken to President Erdoğan, because obviously Turkey is a real influence in the region. So the short answer is that, yes, we will continue to engage with those who are directly engaged in the conflict, as well as with our wider partners.

Photo of Lord Dear Lord Dear Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, it is of course understandable and quite correct that we should be very concerned about the current state of affairs in that part of the world. However, does the Minister agree, first, that in this fractured and potentially very dangerous situation, one of the few bright and positive lights shining in that area is our relationship with the state of Oman—a country I know well both socially and as an official representing this House? It is a long-standing relationship which goes back more than 200 years. Secondly, does he agree that we should wish His Majesty Sultan Qaboos a speedy return to good health?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I agree with the noble Lord and I am sure that other noble Lords will join with me in wishing the Sultan a speedy recovery. Oman has played a key role in the wider region, as we have seen during the Yemen conflict, and we hope that it will continue to do so. It has also been a constructive partner in bringing together different sides after differences arose between Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia within the GCC.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, clearly, the events of the last few days will strike terror into the hearts of those hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still displaced as a result of the events in Iraq and Syria over the past 10 to 15 years—many of them in northern Iraq, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already said. As a responsible member of the Security Council, will the UK Government play a role in ensuring that the operations of the United Nations, UNICEF and the other agencies looking after refugee camps—and the progress made there over the last 12 months—can continue somehow under the surface, and that those displaced and still living in refugee camps, in many cases after seven or eight years, will have some relative safety within this overall escalation of tension?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I pay tribute to the work the noble Lord has undertaken; I know he has visited Iraq and had a very constructive visit on the ground. I assure him that, yes, we are working through all organisations. As the Minister for the United Nations, I assure him that we are very keen to ensure that the gains made through various UN efforts—not just the humanitarian support we have provided but, in particular, as I referred to earlier, the UNITAD mission, which is bringing justice; this point was point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton—are sustained. Indeed, one of the first questions I raised was about the mission’s continuity. Through the Iraqi Government—my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stressed this point to the Prime Minister of Iraq during his conversation with him yesterday—we are certainly seeking to ensure that the gains we have made on the ground, both through our bilateral relationship and, importantly, through the various UN missions, are not just sustained but strengthened at this time.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, now that the JCPOA—recklessly abandoned by the US President—hangs by a thread, does the Minister agree that the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference will be absolutely crucial in restoring trust, and that the UK must play a serious and major role and use that process to demonstrate commitment to genuine nuclear disarmament, as demanded by our commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, I have already talked about the importance of retaining the JCPOA. The noble Baroness says it is hanging by a thread; it is. Although the US has walked away from that agreement, we retain solidarity with our European partners in sustaining the JCPOA and continue to leave the door open on diplomacy with Iran, because we believe that while it is not a perfect deal—far from it; it does not cover certain types of missiles—it provides some degree of stability, and we hope we can return to it. On the wider issue of non-proliferation, it is for the whole world to reflect on its importance and its role in this respect. I am sure we will continue to play a leading part in different international fora in ensuring a more peaceful world around us.

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend has announced a number of reviews; I wonder if I could suggest an additional review. Given that he has rightly identified the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a source of instability in the region and that it has consorted with a terrorist organisation both in the region and in Europe, may we also review and consider whether we should join our American allies in proscribing this organisation? This would send a clear signal to Iran that the normalisation of relations cannot be conducted through a terrorist organisation.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

First, I agree with my noble friend that Her Majesty’s Government do not and will not seek to be associated with any terrorist organisation. We condemn all acts of terrorism, wherever perpetrated and whoever the perpetrator. On my noble friend’s specific question about proscribing this organisation, I have already said what our view of the organisation is. If it meets the requirements of the criteria for proscribing an organisation, I am sure it will be looked at at the appropriate time.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Can the Minister confirm how far British forces are able to operate autonomously in the Gulf? I have been led to understand that the evacuation of British forces on the ground in Iraq depends on American support. I note that the air officer commanding is embedded in a US airbase and I understand that British ships are part of the US-led task force. Are we, in effect, embedded in whatever the Americans do, or can we take back control, to coin a phrase?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The noble Lord will know from his time at the Foreign Office that we work closely with our allies, and the United States is a key ally in our operations in Iraq. I am not going to go into any particular measures that have been taken, suffice to say that we and the US have made it clear to Iraq that the gains made on the ground have been achieved because of the operations of both US and UK forces, as well as other personnel. We hope that, through discussions, the stability that has been achieved will continue.