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Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

We remain seriously concerned about Iran’s nuclear activities. It is difficult to believe its claim that its nuclear programme is intended for purely peaceful purposes. Iran continues to enrich uranium and to increase its capacity to enrich uranium in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions. It is failing to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. We will continue to work closely with international partners to persuade Iran to suspend enrichment and to engage in substantive negotiations, leading to a diplomatic solution to the issue.

We are all aware that Iran trains, supports and arms Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Given that it is reported that Iran will be nuclear-ready by the end of this year, what steps are being taken to ensure that Iran does not enable its favoured terrorist groups to make use of its impending nuclear capability?

That is a real issue of concern. We remain fundamentally committed to resolving it diplomatically and to the E3 plus 3 dual-track strategy, but that means, bluntly, that Iran has a stark choice. There will be increasingly tough sanctions to persuade the Iranians to change course. However, if they take the alternative path, there can be a dialogue that will lead to full negotiations if the Iranians suspend their enrichment-related activities. That is the argument that we are putting forward. That is the offer that we are seeking to get Iran to engage with, and we will be looking to work on that with the new US Administration when they are formed next week.

Given that the Russian Government have some relationship with the Iranian regime and considerable nuclear expertise, what discussion is my hon. Friend having with Russian counterparts to bring forward in Iran a nuclear programme that is for domestic purposes only?

That is a regular feature of our discussions with Russia. As part of the E3 plus 3 process, an offer is on the table from Russia to secure on an external basis Iran’s reported civil nuclear needs. That is why I strongly urge Iran to take the offer that is on the table, engage and find a resolution to the issue.

The middle east region is a powder keg at the moment. Given the basis on which the overthrow of Saddam Hussein took place in Iraq, what assurances can the Minister give the people of the United Kingdom that the information that he is giving about Iran is accurate and dependable?

It is clear that Dr.el-Baradei from the IAEA has reported on Iran four times since 2008. It is also clear that Iran kept its nuclear programme hidden from the world for two decades before it was exposed in 2002. There are outstanding issues for which the IAEA has asked for an explanation but those explanations have not been forthcoming and that is why I believe strongly that the situation is very serious indeed.

The Minister talked about the need for tougher sanctions and we agree that such sanctions are needed to complement what we hope will be direct United States engagement with Iran. But will he not share my dismay that we still have no EU-wide ban on either export credits guarantees or on new investments in Iranian oil and gas? Have the Government now given up hope of achieving EU agreement on such measures, and if not, when does he think they will be agreed?

No. We have been at the forefront of arguing coherently and strongly that to make this dual-track strategy work, the sanctions need to be as robust and effective as possible. The EU, at our prompting, has gone beyond the rest of the international community, for example, freezing the assets of more entities, including Bank Melli. But I take nothing off the table. We will keep trying to ensure that the stick of sanctions is as strong and effective as possible to encourage and persuade Iran to take the fork of diplomacy.