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Iran

Volume 486: debated on Monday 12 January 2009

We routinely assess the military capabilities of other nations’ armed forces, including those of Iran.

Last month, Iran conducted a major naval exercise in the gulf of Oman, involving more than 60 warships and military aircraft. Next month, the first shipments of liquefied natural gas will start sailing from Qatar to Milford Haven, and in due course LNG from the Persian gulf will account for some 25 per cent. of the gas consumed in this country. To what extent does the Secretary of State recognise the military threat of Iran to the security of British energy supply and to what extent is the UK working with its allies and the Gulf Co-operation Council to counter it?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. He will understand that we take a close interest in these matters. Iran has the ability to contribute not just to greater global security, but to greater global energy security. Unfortunately, it is not doing that, so its influence remains malign and it poses a significant threat not just to global security, but to regional security. Naturally, we keep all those matters under careful review and we discuss all these concerns closely with our allies in the Gulf and elsewhere, but it remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that energy supply routes through the gulf of Aden remain open, and we have forces in place there to achieve just that.

I am unsure whether my right hon. Friend will have seen yesterday’s report by Steve Erlanger in The New York Times. It stated:

“Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs.”

That came from The New York Times, not any other source. Does the Secretary of State agree that Iran’s involvement in the current crisis, including the smuggling of Fajr-3 missiles into the hands of Hamas, is a great danger and that the warm relationship between the leadership of Hamas and the current anti-Semitic leadership of Iran also indicates just what a poisonous role Iran is playing generally in the region and further afield?

I did not see that edition of The New York Times, unlike my right hon. Friend. I shall just repeat my earlier comment that Iran’s influence in the region is malign. We want the situation to be transformed, and we are actively pursuing better dialogue and engagement with Iran, but there can be no regional security as long as Iran continues to support not just terrorist organisations in the middle east, but, for example, Taliban elements in Afghanistan, and as long as Iran continues to have active and close links with some of the terrorists and insurgent groups in Iraq. That has to change. Iran has suffered as a result of the isolation that her foreign policy has brought upon her, and that can change if Iran changes her attitude and approach to these issues. Her Majesty’s Government are clear about the need for peace and stability in the middle east, and that is not helped by the current policies of the Iranian Government.

Iran can pose such a local and strategic threat because of the technological assistance on missile defence and missile development that it continues to receive from both China and Russia. Can the Secretary of State tell us what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to try to stop that flow from China and Russia?

I do not want to go into the detail of that point on the Floor of the House; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand. We share his concerns about the possibility of defence forces in Iran being enhanced by such technology and we are in discussions with several nations to try to prevent that from happening.

The news coming from Washington, from President-elect Obama, is that he seeks, and is willing, to engage with Iran. Is that a lead that the Government might want to follow?

We have diplomatic relations with Iran. As I said earlier, we seek an active engagement and dialogue with the Government of Iran, because they are potentially significant partners for peace and security in that region of the world, which is so sorely troubled by the absence of security, but that engagement has to be on the basis of respect for other nations’ borders and frontiers and the right of other nations to live in peace and security. Currently, the Iranian Government do not respect those principles, and until they do, Iran will remain an international pariah state.

May I associate those on the Opposition Front Bench with the tribute paid to our service personnel who have died or been wounded since the House last met?

In the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones), the Secretary of State seemed to accept that Iran could, if it chose, pose a major naval threat to our fuel supplies. Does he accept that in countering such a threat our attack submarine fleet would be crucial? For that reason, will he consider restoring the promise that the Government made in 2004 to build eight Astute submarines?

We have looked very carefully at all these matters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are currently envisaging building seven Astute submarines, and that remains the Government’s position. I do not dispute the important role of the ship submersible nuclear fleet in securing those trade routes, and I can assure him that, along with other naval assets from this country and our NATO partners, we retain credible naval forces designed to ensure that our energy supply routes, especially from the middle east, remain open.