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Middle East

Volume 542: debated on Monday 26 March 2012

9. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in the Middle East; and if he will make a statement. (101604)

Demands for greater political, social and economic participation continue in the middle east and north Africa, particularly in Syria where the situation is of grave concern. The UK remains concerned over Iran’s nuclear programme and its continued attempts to develop nuclear weapons.  The UK continues to work with other countries to achieve a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  We want a negotiated solution, not a military one, but we are clear that all options should be kept on the table. We assess that the regional security situation will remain fragile.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s appraisal of the Iranian nuclear programme; no options should be left off the table. Will he ensure that the Iranians are under no illusions and state that, if necessary, the United Kingdom has the capability to act—and act decisively?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already made the situation abundantly clear. The UK, together with the United States, seeks a peaceful solution to the Iranian crisis, but we are very clear that a combination of engagement and continued pressure is the way to deliver that. We look forward to the resumed E3 plus 3 talks, and we are also very clear that no option should be taken off the table.

Can the Secretary of State tell us on what British forces are engaged in the Gulf region at the present time, and what the rules of engagement are for naval vessels in the strait of Hormuz and surrounding waters?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have naval vessels in the Gulf. I am not able to tell him from this Dispatch Box the details of the rules of engagement, for reasons that will be obvious to him.

Given the recent deployment of some of Britain’s minesweepers to the strait of Hormuz, does the Secretary of State agree that the clearing of mines in international waterways is a necessary but passive action, which should not be seen as a hostile act by Iran or any other country?

To be clear, there has not been a recent deployment. The UK has minesweepers deployed in the Gulf—they have been there for some time, and I expect them to remain there. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Keeping the strait of Hormuz open is a passive action in the interests of the international community, and should not be regarded as a war-like action by anybody.