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Volume 506: debated on Monday 22 February 2010

14. What recent assessment his Department has made of Iran’s military capability; and if he will make a statement. (317453)

Iran’s military capability is primarily defensive in nature with offensive capabilities intended to provide deterrence to any potential aggressor. Many of Iran’s conventional platforms are old, predating the 1979 Islamic revolution. Despite Iran’s efforts to procure and produce spares to supplement existing platforms with new equipment, they do not present a significant conventional threat to our or our allies’ interests. We are, however, committed to working with the international community to ensure that the difficult issue of Iran’s nuclear ambition is resolved through diplomacy.

The Secretary of State will well know that the nuclear issue is the focus of attention. What concerns me is whether the military preparations in Iran are sufficient to give it the flexibility to make a conventional attack on any of its neighbouring countries. We saw the loss of life during the Iran-Iraq war, which was horrendous, and we saw the Iranian Government’s lack of value of life. Could that happen again and is there a strategic threat to the United Kingdom’s interests?

We would like to encourage Iran to be a good neighbour, to take its part in the region and to be a positive force in that regard. Notwithstanding what I have said about its conventional capability eroding over time and about its not being able to maintain that capability, we have seen it create difficulties through proxies for its neighbouring countries. We would ask it seriously to reconsider that and to join the international community in providing a secure environment for the region. That would be in the interests of Iran as well as the wider middle east.