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Iran’s Nuclear Programme

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2009

The Foreign Secretary and other Ministers regularly discuss Iran and its nuclear programme with our European Union counterparts. The EU has consistently been at the forefront of the international response to the Iran nuclear issue. The E3 plus 3 reaffirmed its unity and commitment on 4 February to achieving a diplomatic resolution to the Iran nuclear issue.

I am grateful for that reply, but will the Minister ensure that those European discussions link closely with the potential of the new President of the United States, who seems to hold the possibility of a more flexible and open approach towards Iran?

We very much welcome the US Administration’s willingness to engage directly with Iran, which I think is what my hon. Friend was referring to. However, no one should be in any doubt that President Obama has made it clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Iran has to make a choice between, on the one hand, the very generous E3 plus 3 offer and a transformed relationship with the international community and, on the other hand, continuing on the path of confrontation, increasing isolation, and tougher and expanded sanctions.

When the Secretary of State meets the US Secretary of State next week, what will he be able to tell her about what further steps the EU is going to take, given that the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran has now enriched enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon?

The US is reviewing its position with regard to Iran, and we are discussing the issue. However, as I have made clear, President Obama has made it clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. We all need to work together to force Iran to confront that fundamental choice: on the one hand, engagement and all the benefits that it can bring or, on the other, increased isolation.

Does the Minister not agree that this might be a good opportunity to launch the idea of a nuclear-free middle east, which would involve the non-development of nuclear weapons by any existing states in the middle east and, of course, nuclear disarmament by the only nuclear-armed state in the region, namely Israel? Does he not also agree that this year’s forthcoming non-proliferation treaty preparatory committee, or prepcom, would be a good time to launch such an initiative?

I am sure that my hon. Friend would welcome the fact that this country and this Government are the most forward-leaning of the nuclear weapon states in terms of disarmament. We need constantly to reiterate that. We are also very committed to a nuclear-free middle east and have consistently urged the Government of Israel to sign up to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.

The possible formation of a Government under Mr. Netanyahu is a matter of some concern in the context of the Iranian nuclear programme. Will the Minister and EU Ministers impress upon any Government headed by Mr. Netanyahu the vital importance of restraint and of working in concert with the EU countries and the United States, and that his Government should not contemplate any unilateral action?

Let me make it clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have consistently been 100 per cent. committed to a diplomatic solution. Nevertheless, we face a serious challenge in respect of Iran. The whole international community needs to focus Iran on the choice that it faces.

Carrying on doing what we are doing and expecting it to have a different outcome would seem to be folly. What we are doing now seems in no way to be slowing down the Iranian nuclear programme. If we are to avoid the accusation in two years’ time that we allowed the world to drift into a nightmare, how do we and our EU partners take things to the next level in applying pressure on Iran? In particular, those in the Arab world have just as much to lose from a nuclear-armed Iran, so how do we get them to join us?

My hon. Friend makes an exceedingly pertinent point. In all the discussions that I have in the middle east, there is significant concern, among the Gulf states and other middle east states, about the position of Iran. We need to maximise the consensus and force Iran to face the choice that is before it. The United States Administration have rightly said that they are willing in principle to open a direct dialogue with Iran. We need to reinforce that. We also need to maximise the unity and get Iran to the point where it makes the choice that is necessary.

The latest report from the IAEA states that Iran has now stockpiled more than 1,000 kg of low-enriched uranium. If Iran continues at this pace, it will be a matter not of if, but when, it actually has a nuclear weapons capability. Can the Minister therefore assure the House that the EU will now finally muster the will to impose the key sanctions that the Prime Minister first announced back in 2007 on investment in Iranian oil and gas?

The European Union, as I argued earlier, has been at the forefront of those internationally arguing for and urging sanctions. The latest IAEA report is one of real and serious concern. It underlines the reasons why we have a lack of confidence in that Iran has not responded to the IAEA report and is not allowing legitimate access. We need to keep up the argument that that is what we rightly expect Iran to do.