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Iran (Nuclear Programme)

Volume 549: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2012

5. What recent assessment he has made of the potential threat to stability in the middle east of Iran’s nuclear programme. (118500)

We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme. A nuclear-armed Iran would result in still greater instability in the middle east and increase the risk of a nuclear arms race. Iran must negotiate seriously on the nuclear issue, to give the international community confidence that it is not developing nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reckons Iran has 189 kg of uranium enriched to 20%. Were this quantity enriched to 90%, that would be enough for five nuclear bombs. Given that enrichment to 20% requires four fifths of the effort to get to 90%, will my right hon. Friend redouble the United Kingdom’s efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed military power?

Those efforts have been redoubled in recent times in many ways, and my hon. Friend will be aware that, with our partners in the European Union and many other partners and allies around the world, we have imposed more serious economic sanctions on Iran than we have imposed on any country in recent times. This has caused Iranian oil exports to fall by about 1 million barrels a day from last year. Iran is losing almost $8 billion in revenues every quarter as a result of that, and we will continue to intensify the pressure from sanctions, as well as remain open to negotiations, in order to try to resolve this issue. In the longer term, we take nothing off the table in our efforts to resolve the issue.

Has the right hon. Gentleman read the article by David Remnick in the current issue of The New Yorker? He has just returned from Israel, where he discussed this issue with all the top figures in Israeli intelligence, every single one of whom is opposed to Israeli military action against Iran. Vile though the regime in Iran is, and while it is proper for the right hon. Gentleman to be taking the action he is, will he make it clear to Israel and everybody else that we are totally opposed to military action against Iran?

I have not seen the article in question; I will be very pleased to have a look at it. Certainly, there is a variety of views in Israel about the merits of military action at any time. We have been very clear to Israeli leaders—the Prime Minister and I have been clear in our recent meetings with Israeli leaders—that the policy we favour and are pursuing is the twin-track policy of sanctions and negotiations. We have been very clear that under those circumstances, we oppose a military strike on Iran.

20. Can the Secretary of State explain the stark discrepancy between the comments made by Sir John Sawers on 4 July and the Senate testimony early this year of the director of the CIA, General Patraeus, in which he stated that there was no evidence of a decision by Iran to build a nuclear weapon? (118517)

I am not going to comment on the reported comments of the director of the Secret Intelligence Service, but I do not think there is any contradiction in anything that has been said in public. Iran is, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) in asking this question, accumulating material for which there is no logical explanation other than an ultimate intention to construct a nuclear device. There is no peaceful explanation that has been given to the world, and that is the important truth we have to confront, whatever decision-making process is going on in the Iranian leadership.

I have noted all that the Foreign Secretary has had to say about the sanctions that are in place, but given the very concerning terms of the IAEA report, of which he and other colleagues have already spoken, and in particular the reports of the doubling of production capacity in the Fordow underground site, will he share with the House a little more of his sense of whether the current sanctions are themselves sufficient to effect behavioural change in Tehran, or whether other sanctions could be imposed to achieve that outcome?

Those sanctions are having a substantial effect—I quoted some facts in relation to that a moment ago—but it is important to note not only the impact on their oil revenues, which I mentioned, but that Iran’s other industries are also suffering. Domestic car production has dropped by nearly 40%, textile manufacturers are operating at 50% capacity, and there has been a surge in inflation, which is perhaps twice the official figure of 25%. These are very difficult economic circumstances, which Iran is making worse by the policies it is pursuing.

There is no evidence, so far, that this has produced a change of policy in the Iranian leadership, although I am sure it is the best policy for us to pursue. Certainly, I believe there is a strong case for the intensification of sanctions, and for additional sanctions to be agreed in the European Union and brought into force with the United States and other partners around the world, so that Iran is clear about the consequences of continuing with this policy.

As the Opposition, we have associated ourselves with and support the Government’s approach of intensifying sanctions but also securing engagement and dialogue with the Iranians. Given what the Foreign Secretary has had to say about sanctions, many of us welcome the re-establishment of the E3 plus 3 process. Can he update the House on his assessment of the progress made in those discussions, and has a date been fixed for further discussions?

It was progress of a kind to have the discussions between the E3 plus 3—with Baroness Ashton speaking on our behalf, but all six countries present—and the Iranian negotiators, but those negotiations have not produced any breakthrough. Baroness Ashton and the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, Mr Jalili, spoke again on 2 August—their most recent conversation—and we expect further contact between them in September. But for those conversations to make progress, it will be necessary for Iran to have less unrealistic objectives for the negotiations, and to be ready to respond to the clear and generous offer that the E3 plus 3 have made.