I am in regular contact with my European colleagues on Iran. Most recently my officials met Iranian representatives, alongside those of France, Germany, the United States, China and Russia, in Istanbul on Saturday to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme.
EU member states make up four of the world’s 10 biggest oil importing states and OPEC has calculated that removing Iranian oil from the market would result in the loss of about 10 billion barrels a day. To maintain biting sanctions on the Iranian regime, alternative and adequate supplies of oil need to be secured. What steps are the Government taking with their EU counterparts to achieve that?
The ban on importing Iranian oil comes into force on 1 July, although most European countries have already stopped such purchases. During March, Iranian exports of crude oil reportedly fell by 14%—in just one month. That is putting considerable pressure on Iran. I am not aware so far of any difficulties among EU countries in replacing those supplies. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are increasing their oil production and that is very helpful.
The measures we will take will go down the twin track of sanctions and negotiations. We now have unprecedented sanctions coming into force on Iran, including not just the oil embargo but a partial asset freeze on the central bank of Iran, and expanded financial measures against Iran, including on gold and precious metals. However, we are sincere about negotiations. I am pleased that the opening round of negotiations in Istanbul went better than previous rounds, and a second round has been agreed for Baghdad on 23 May.
I am pleased that the talks last weekend were described as “fruitful” and co-operative—I think those were the words—which is useful of course. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we need to keep up a maximum dialogue between now and 23 May so that when the parties next convene for a formal discussion we can really look forward to concrete proposals?
Yes, of course the dialogue will be kept up, as will the maximum pressure in the form of the sanctions coming into place. The commitment to a second round of negotiations includes a commitment to discussions between officials between now and then in order to prepare those discussions in Baghdad.
15. The last nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference supported the concept of a nuclear-free middle east. Could the Foreign Secretary say what is being done to promote that and when the conference involving all countries in that region including Israel is due to take place as a way of promoting a nuclear-free and therefore peaceful region? (102866)
We are in favour of such a conference and we were one of the countries that promoted the idea. It was due to take place in 2012, although agreement on its taking place has not yet been reached. I stress, however, that we have no chance of achieving a nuclear-free middle east as long as Iran persists in a programme that the world suspects is a nuclear military programme.
My right hon. Friend has already referred to the effect of the sanctions and oil embargo in putting pressure on Iran. What discussions has he had with those countries, notably China and Russia, that are breaking the oil embargo and that would presumably have a great deal to lose if there were a loose Iranian nuclear power?
China and Russia are not part of the agreement on the oil embargo—there is no United Nations oil embargo; it is a European Union embargo—but it is noticeable that Chinese purchases of Iranian oil seem to have fallen in recent months. The Iranian nuclear programme is an issue that we discuss constantly with our counterparts. I discussed it with the Russian Foreign Minister in Washington last week and I will be discussing it with a member of the Chinese Politburo in about 45 minutes’ time. We will of course continue all those discussions.
The most important thing in making a success of the Baghdad negotiations is that there are productive discussions between officials beforehand and that Iran comes to the table with proposals of its own for urgent practical steps that can be taken to give confidence that it is serious and sincere about the negotiations. The most important step it could take would be to demonstrate to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the whole world that its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes and to do so to all our satisfaction, but it has not been able to do that.