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Volume 536: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2011

We worked closely with our EU partners in responding to the International Atomic Energy Agency report about the Iranian nuclear programme, and I hope we will reach further conclusions on Iran at this week’s Foreign Affairs Council.

What work are the Government doing to protect the safety and security of Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff in Iran, following the decision this week of Iran’s Parliament to call for drastic cuts in diplomatic ties? Will the Government respond to that with similar action if that call is agreed to by the Guardian Council?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue. The Iranian Parliament voted on Sunday to downgrade relations with the United Kingdom. As she says, the further decision of the Guardian Council is awaited. I have made it clear that if they go ahead with that, we will respond robustly. We will do so in consultation with our European Union partners. There is no Iranian ambassador currently here in London. The embassy is headed by a chargé so we are not able to respond exactly in kind, but we will respond in other ways and we will do so robustly.

Given that the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report provides no concrete evidence of a nuclear weapons programme—there is no smoking gun—does the Foreign Secretary accept that implied threats of military force could be counter-productive in that they could rally the people behind the hard-liners and drive whatever programme there is further underground?

To be clear, the IAEA report of earlier in November speaks of its serious concerns at credible information about Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, so we should be clear about that. As my hon. Friend knows, we are not advocating military action. We are pursuing a twin-track approach of being open to meaningful negotiations but increasing the peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran through sanctions, and we will continue with that approach.

I welcome the Government’s newly announced sanctions in response to Iran’s nuclear programme. Ahead of the right hon. Gentleman’s forthcoming meeting with European counterparts in December to discuss the issue, what is he doing to encourage financial institutions across Europe to take action?

The Government made an important announcement on that a week ago. Last Monday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the British financial sector is required to sever all financial ties with Iranian banks. Similar action is being taken by the United States and Canada. I expect some other nations to follow suit and, as I mentioned earlier, we are now discussing within the European Union additional measures that will follow shortly.