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Iran: Ballistic Missile Programme

Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2018

4. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect on stability in the middle east of Iran’s ballistic missile programme. (904585)

We make clear our concerns about Iran’s destabilising regional activity, ballistic missile programme and support for the Houthis in Yemen. Increased dialogue, such as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Tehran in December and my hosting of Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi last month, enables us to engage Iran on these challenging issues.

I thank the Minister for that response. Since the nuclear deal was signed some three years ago, Iran’s hard-liners have benefited from sanctions relief and the country has tested at least 23 ballistic missiles, while human rights abuses have continued unabated and Iran continues to finance terrorist proxies and regimes in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, so does the Minister agree that the nuclear deal has not yet curbed Iran’s regional aggression, and how does his Department intend to rectify that?

The hon. Gentleman’s question neatly encapsulates the dilemma in relation to Iran and its future. On the one hand, it has adhered to the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—to that extent, that issue of the development of a nuclear weapons capability is being dealt with—but on the other hand Iran’s activity still causes great concern. We do engage with Iran directly on those issues and they are known in the region. We believe there are better ways for Iran to demonstrate its relationship with the rest of the region, and we look forward to that.

Iran is indeed fomenting terror in the region, with funding for the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and through propping up the Assad regime in Syria. Have Iran’s efforts in this direction increased or reduced since we re-established diplomatic relations in September 2016?

What the re-establishment of diplomatic relationships has meant is that we have the ability to engage Iran directly and clearly on some of the matters my hon. Friend has stated.

What recent dialogue has the Minister or officers had on human rights, particularly the position of women, in Iran?

The method of engagement with Iran enables these things to be dealt with very directly, although not always publicly. In pressing the case for a better human rights relationship in Iran, both among its people and involving those from outside, our statement of beliefs is clear, and I am sure the direct engagement is always helpful.

Just last month, Iran dispatched an advanced drone into Israel’s airspace from Syria, which led to a serious confrontation between Israel and Iran, and provoked a concerning escalation in tension throughout the region. Does the Minister share my concern at these events and will he join me in condemning Iran for its bellicose actions, which must be contained?

Yes. One or two direct instances of activities by Iran cause great concern, bearing in mind the risk of miscalculation and confrontation in the region. Whether we are talking about the United Nations panel of experts looking at materials that have been fired from Yemen into Riyadh or the drone incursion, these things make it very difficult for Iran to establish the sort of relationships it needs with those around it, and it has to reconsider that sort of activity.

The Minister will know that cyber- attacks by rogue states are on the rise. This week, Iran has been reported to have launched a cyber-attack on British universities. Does he have any comment to make about that?

I do not have any direct comment on that, but clearly cyber- attacks directed against the UK, whether from external entities to states or from states, are not acceptable to the UK.