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Iran’s Nuclear Programme

Volume 574: debated on Tuesday 21 January 2014

3. What recent progress has been made on securing a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme. (902065)

12. What recent progress has been made on securing a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme. (902074)

I welcome the entry into force yesterday of the Geneva joint plan of action. This agreement halts progress in Iran’s nuclear programme in return for proportionate sanctions relief, and will be implemented in parallel with the negotiations on a comprehensive agreement.

There has been an encouraging start to these negotiations, so will the Foreign Secretary give his assessment of the wider possible implications of success for other challenges in the region, including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for the prospect of a normalisation of diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran?

Some encouragement should be taken, as my hon. Friend says, from the start of the negotiations and from yesterday’s agreement to begin implementing the interim deal. I must stress that a huge amount of work remains to be done to arrive at a comprehensive settlement of the nuclear issue. It will be formidably difficult to do so, but it must remain the main priority. It is too early to say whether that will be accompanied by wider changes in the foreign policy of Iran. In the meantime, we are working, step by step, on building up our bilateral relations, including two visits in recent weeks by our new chargé d’affaires.

I welcome any progress in improving relations with the Iranian Government notwithstanding the overnight debacle surrounding the invitation to them to attend Geneva II. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that constructive Iranian involvement is required to secure a viable regional security settlement? With that in mind, does he think that Britain should adopt a Gorbachev-like approach to our engagement with reform-minded Iranian politicians, including those in power and those of the future?

As I mentioned a moment ago, it would be extremely welcome if there were other wider and constructive changes in the foreign policy of Iran. I intend to have a telephone discussion later today with the Foreign Minister of Iran, building on our recent contact. The United Kingdom is very much in favour of engagement with Iran, but we also need to see commitment from it. It was open to Iran yesterday to say that in the Geneva II process it would support the implementation of Geneva I, which every other country is in favour of and is seeking in the talks this week, but it was not able publicly to make that commitment.

May I draw it to the House’s attention that I am co-chairman of the all-party group on Iran and was recently a guest of the Iranian Parliament on a parliamentary delegation?

I commend the work of the Foreign Secretary and welcome the progress that has been made, but will he take account of the fact that many of those in the current Administration in Iran felt, I think quite rightly, badly burned by their experiences of acting in good faith 10 years ago and finding that their best efforts were thwarted, in this case, by forces inside the United States. We must ensure that that does not happen again.

Absolutely, we must take account of events 10 or 11 years ago and make sure that we give encouragement to those in Iran who are in favour of better relations with the west and with the region. That has been one of the arguments for proceeding quickly with an agreement on an interim deal. Indeed that was one of the reasons for urgency, apart from the advances of the Iranian nuclear programme, in coming to that deal, so I hope that we can now build on that, and we will make every effort to do so.

Will the Foreign Secretary focus his attention on the issue of nuclear proliferation? In welcoming the interim agreement with Iran, does he not accept that it is now important to press ahead with the possibility of a non-proliferation treaty-led conference for a nuclear weapons-free region as a whole, and to use the current good atmosphere to achieve that outcome?

Yes, I do accept that. That was an important outcome, promoted by the United Kingdom, of the NPT review conference in 2010. The progress that we are making with Iran is an additional argument in favour of bringing together that conference. There has been some renewed diplomatic momentum behind this over the past couple of months, which we are encouraging. Therefore, I very much hope that, over the course of this year, we will be able to make some serious progress on this.

Has my right hon. Friend made any assessment of the impact, in relation to foreign policy opportunities with Iran, of the fact that an invitation was extended by the United Nations and then withdrawn? Can he conceive of any circumstances in which there would be a long-term and effective settlement in Syria that did not have the commitment of Iran behind it?

It is very important to the future peace of Syria, when ever we are able to bring that about, to have Iranian commitment to it. That is extremely important, which is why we have never opposed on principle Iranian involvement in the Geneva II process. I stressed last week in the House that it would be important for Iran to give some constructive signal that it would approach Geneva II on the same basis as all other nations, which is to implement the Geneva communiqué of June 2012. It is a great shame that it felt unable to do that publicly yesterday, which is why, to save the Geneva II process, the UN Secretary-General rescinded the invitation that he had issued on Sunday.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that whatever the difficulties with Geneva II and Iran’s participation in it, we should not let them in any way get in the way of the progress that we need to make on the agreement on the nuclear programme? In that respect, will he assure the House, in relation to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), that the resistance that previously existed is not still so potent as to prevent, for example, UK designated banks that are authorised to deal with transactions with Iran from doing so?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are certain measures of sanctions relief that we will now implement, which we agreed yesterday among EU Foreign Ministers. That is part of implementing this deal and we will ensure that that relief can be delivered effectively. Of course, it is also important at the same time to ensure that remaining sanctions are rigorously enforced. I will consider the point that he has raised in the light of that.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that since he signed the joint agreement with Iran, Iran has installed and started IR-1m centrifuges, which have an enhanced enrichment capacity? Although that might be within the letter of the agreement, does he agree that it flies in the face of its spirit and undermines faith in the Iranians’ willingness to restrain their enrichment capacity?

Discussions about more advanced centrifuges and Iran’s intentions to install them have been one of the issues that had to be resolved in agreeing from yesterday to implement this deal. However, the E3 plus 3 countries are satisfied with the arrangements that have been made, which do not involve Iran bringing such centrifuges into operation.

What conversations is the Foreign Secretary having with his P5 plus 1 partners to secure International Atomic Energy Agency access to sites such as Parchin, a site that the EU body suspects the Iranians are using to test nuclear weapon technology?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, as such issues will need to be addressed beyond the interim deal if we are to arrive at a comprehensive deal. There are many aspects to what the IAEA terms the possible military dimensions to Iran’s programme. To reach any comprehensive deal, the international community would have to be satisfied about what is happening in places such as Parchin.