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Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

Iran has every right to be a secure, rich country. However, it does not have the right to set off a nuclear arms race in the middle east. That is why we deplore its continued enrichment of uranium in defiance of three UN Security Council resolutions. We will continue to work with our E3 plus 3 partners—France, Germany, Russia, the US and China—and with our EU colleagues to persuade Iran to suspend all reprocessing and enrichment-related activities and return to negotiations on the basis of the far-reaching proposals that we presented in June 2006.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House, in a word, whether there is any substantial difference between the policy of the United Kingdom Government and that of the United States Administration?

We are joint members of the E3 plus 3 process. Six countries are leading the diplomatic effort. We are working together with the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China, as I said in my answer to the hon. Gentleman’s main question.

What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with Iran’s neighbours to prevent any expansion of nuclear proliferation in the region should the worst happen?

Obviously I have spoken to the Iranian Foreign Minister himself. I talked to him about the risks that he was taking, not just for his own country but for the region and the wider world. In discussions with Egyptian, Saudi and other Foreign Ministers and ambassadors, I have emphasised our concern for the non-proliferation treaty to be respected, and for Iran not to play the proliferating role that is so dangerous in the current circumstances.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if military action against Iran is to be discouraged, it is crucial for there to be a robust and effective alternative that cannot be scuppered by Russian or Chinese vetoes? As President Sarkozy of France—along with the United States—is enthusiastically calling for financial and banking sanctions against Iran, and as Deutsche Bank, UBS, HBSC and other banks are already responding, will the Foreign Secretary do all in his power to encourage other European Union countries, particularly Germany, Italy and Spain, to support such a policy?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s general point about the importance of the diplomatic route having proper teeth is absolutely correct. He could have added Standard Chartered to the list of banks that he mentioned.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be interested to know that in the year to May 2007, EU trade with Iran fell by 34 per cent., which constitutes a significant tightening of the sanctions. We are exploring all avenues. I will of course discuss the matter with EU colleagues next week, and will continue to monitor it at an international level.

Iran is almost certainly in breach of its undertaking on the non-proliferation treaty, given that it is a signatory. It is our duty to ensure that the treaty is enforced: it has maintained a very good record over many years. However, the policy lacks some coherence when we are prepared to tolerate the development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India—and, indeed, welcome it, as the Americans did recently. We really must have a coherent and comprehensive policy if we expect to make real progress on the Iranian problem.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I think he will agree that the present situation in regard to India and Pakistan is far preferable to that which existed in 2002, when people were extremely worried about relations between the two countries. I think that the efforts by the Governments of both countries to lower the temperature in the region should be recognised, notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s point about nuclear weapons.

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that prospects for the development of nuclear weapons by Iran would be strengthened or weakened if the British Government lifted its illegal prohibition and proscription of the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran and the National Council of Resistance of Iran?

I think I am right in saying that the issue is currently before the courts, and in that context it would be very unwise of me to venture any opinion.

Have there been any discussions at any level between the British Government and the United States Administration about the possibility of taking military action against Iran?

As I have said—and as representatives of the United States Administration right up to the top have said on every occasion—we are 100 per cent. focused on the diplomatic process, and on making the diplomatic route work. That is what we will continue to argue and urge in all forums.