With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, officially known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.
The Government regret the decision of the United States Administration to withdraw from the deal and reimpose American sanctions on Iran. We did our utmost to prevent this outcome: from the moment that President Trump’s Administration took office, we made the case for keeping the JCPOA at every level. Last Sunday, I travelled to Washington and repeated this country’s support for the nuclear agreement in meetings with Secretary of State Pompeo, Vice-President Pence, national security adviser Bolton and others, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Trump last Saturday.
The US decision makes no difference to the British assessment that the constraints imposed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the JCPOA remain vital for our national security and the stability of the middle east. Under the agreement, Iran has relinquished 95% of its low-enriched uranium, placed two thirds of its centrifuges in storage, removed the core of its heavy water reactor—thus closing off the plutonium route to a bomb—and allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to mount the most intrusive and rigorous inspection regime ever devised, an obligation on Iran that lasts until 2040. The House should not underestimate the impact of those measures. The interval needed for Iran to make enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb is known as the breakout time. Under the deal, Iran’s breakout time has trebled, or even quadrupled, from a few months to at least a year, and the plutonium pathway to a weapon has been blocked completely.
For as long as Iran abides by the agreement—and the IAEA has publicly reported its compliance nine times so far—Britain will remain a party to the JCPOA. I remind the House that the JCPOA is an international agreement, painstakingly negotiated over 13 years under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and enshrined in United Nations resolution 2231. Britain has no intention of walking away; instead, we will co-operate with the other parties to ensure that while Iran continues to restrict its nuclear programme, its people will benefit from sanctions relief in accordance with the central bargain of the deal. I cannot yet go into detail about the steps that we propose to take, but I hope to make that information available as soon as possible, and I spoke yesterday to my French and German counterparts.
In his statement on 12 January, President Trump highlighted important limitations of the JCPOA, including the fact that some constraints on Iran’s nuclear capacity will expire in 2025. Britain worked alongside France and Germany to find a way forward that would have addressed the President’s concerns and allowed the US to stay in the JCPOA, but without reopening the terms of the agreement. I still believe that that would have been the better course. Now that our efforts on this side of the Atlantic have not succeeded, it falls to the US Administration to spell out their view of the way ahead. In the meantime, I urge the US to avoid taking any action that would hinder other parties from continuing to make the agreement work in the interests of our collective national security. I urge Iran to respond to the US decision with restraint and to continue to observe its commitments under the JCPOA.
We have always been at one with the United States in our profound concern about Iran’s missile tests and Iran’s disruptive role in the middle east, particularly in Yemen and Syria. The UK has acted to counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region, and we will continue to do so. We remain adamant that a nuclear-armed Iran would never be acceptable to the United Kingdom. Indeed, Iran’s obligation not to “seek, develop or acquire” nuclear weapons appears—without any time limit—on the first page of the preamble to the JCPOA.
Yesterday, President Trump promised to work
“with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
I have no difficulty whatever with that goal; the question is, how does the US propose to achieve it? Now that the Trump Administration have left the JCPOA, the responsibility falls on them to describe how they, in Washington, will build a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns—a settlement that must necessarily include Iran, China and Russia, as well as countries in the region. Britain stands ready to support that task, but in the meantime, we will strive to preserve the gains made by the JCPOA. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.
I am sure that there will come a time to debate whether the Government’s approach to Donald Trump since his election in 2016 has been the right one, but today is not the time, because instead I believe that the whole House, and indeed the whole world, should stand united in condemning Donald Trump for the reckless, senseless and immoral act of diplomatic sabotage that he has committed. Every independent inspection has confirmed—even the US Defence Secretary James Mattis admitted this last month—that the nuclear deal is working and Iran is complying with it in full.
Yes, there are other important matters that must be addressed with Iran—its regional activities, its ballistic missile programme, and its record on human rights—but the platform for that dialogue, and the foundation on which future arrangements could be reached, was the nuclear deal. Instead, by seeking to scupper the nuclear deal, Donald Trump has destroyed the platform for future progress and risked triggering a nuclear arms race in the middle east, handing power to the hard-line theocrats in Tehran and pushing Iran back into isolation. Donald Trump is taking all those risks without a single care, without the slightest justification and without the simplest rational thought about what will come next; and in doing so he is sending a message to North Korea that any agreement it reaches with the US will be worthless.
While we could talk all day about the recklessness and idiocy of what Donald Trump has done, the key question is this: how should the world react? And here I believe there are three challenges. First, there is the challenge for the other signatories of how to best preserve the deal. For Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia that means providing urgent legal and financial protection for companies and banks in our countries engaged in trade and financial transactions with Iran so they can continue doing so. As for Iran, it must have the patience and resolve not to respond in kind to this act of belligerence, but to continue working with the other signatories to try to keep the deal alive.
The second challenge is equally serious: how to stop a descent into conflict. Iran is a country nine times the size of Syria with a population as big as Germany’s. The idea of Iran racing to develop a nuclear weapon and the US Administration seeking to stop it through military means does not bear thinking about. Yet we know that that is exactly what the Trump Administration are thinking about. In February, The New York Times published an important comment piece accusing the Trump Administration of employing exactly the same playbook used before the Iraq war to manufacture a pretext for war with Iran. The article was written by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he warned simply:
“I helped sell the false choice of war once. It’s happening again.”
And that was before the appointment of John Bolton. So while we rightly focus our efforts now on trying to salvage the nuclear deal, we must also be alert to stop any further steps the US may take to escalate its confrontation with Iran.
The third and final challenge I want to mention today is equally profound: if we did not know it beforehand, what yesterday’s announcement confirmed is that as long as Donald Trump remains President we must get used to a world without American leadership—a world where efforts to secure peace and progress on the great challenges facing the planet must be made not just without American co-operation but often in the face of the Administration’s active opposition. That is the challenge we now face in relation to Iran, as it has been on climate change, the refugee crisis and the Israel-Palestine peace process. But starting with the consensus in this House today, I hope we can all play our part in ensuring Britain rises to that challenge.
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s point that there is no merit in any reckless and counterproductive attacks on the United States today, and I am sure that she will continue that spirit when the President makes his visit in July and trust, too, that she will communicate that to the rest of those on the Labour Benches and, indeed, to the Labour party in London. She made a good point when she said that the Iranian Government and the Iranian people have not walked away from the deal. They remain in compliance, and it is our duty, as the UK Government with our European partners, to help them to remain in compliance and to assist in the survival of the JCPOA.
To be fair to the US Administration, they have decided that there is another way forward. They have decided that the limitations that they see in the deal—the sunset clauses, Iran’s malign behaviour in the region and the problem of the intended Iranian acquisition of intercontinental ballistic missiles—can be met by bringing all the problems together and having a big negotiation. The UK Government have long taken a different view that the essence of the JCPOA was to compartmentalise—to take the nuclear deal and solve that—but the President has taken another view. It is now up to Washington to come forward with concrete proposals on how exactly it intends to bring the problems together and address them collectively. Our posture should be one of support in that endeavour, although, as I say, we have been sceptical about how that is to be done.
As for North Korea, the whole House will want to wish the President of the United States every possible success in his endeavours and convey to him our admiration for the vigour with which he has tackled the matter.
My right hon. Friend will know from his work that US leadership has often been a force for good in the world, and although many of us still support the leadership that the United States shows around the world, many of us are worried by their withdrawal from this deal. We are perhaps, however, a little more concerned by the malign activity of the Iranian regime, its theocrats, its acolytes and its useful idiots around the world, who have encouraged it and supported it in the media and in the region. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on us, as good Europeans and good internationalists, to work with partners around the world and around the region not just to encourage a new approach to a peace process in Iran, but to encourage the Iranian regime to change, to become a good neighbour, not a malign influence, and to cease threatening our friends and allies, such as the other countries in the region and, of course, Israel?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that, as Members on both sides of the House will agree, Iran is a malign actor in the region. There is no question but that Iran has been a seriously disruptive force in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. He is also right to point out the cardinal importance of the Iranian people in the discussions. Ultimately, the effort behind the JCPOA was to give them the prospect of the economic benefits of participating in the global economy in exchange for denuclearisation. That is still the fundamental bargain to be struck.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for early sight of his statement. Mr Deputy Speaker, may I wish you and all Members a very happy Europe Day?
The JCPOA has illustrated the importance of our relationship with our European partners, who are after all our closest allies. This work illustrates the painstaking effort that goes into seeking a diplomatic way forward. The Foreign Secretary was right to mention the reduction in low-enriched uranium and some of the other achievements of the Iran deal, and the shadow Foreign Secretary was right to talk about the false choice of war. The process has been long and painstaking, and I pay due credit to officials and to Ministers from both sides of the House for their work over the years. This is a much more effective way to deal with concerns about weapons of mass destruction than that deployed by Iran’s neighbours, for example.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this move by President Trump is deeply reckless and irresponsible and has undermined the importance of the diplomatic process? Given what appears to be the UK’s lack of influence and the Foreign Secretary’s appeal on the President’s favourite TV show, does that not illustrate even more why we have such an important relationship with the EU in tackling the issue? Will he tell me when he next plans to meet Federica Mogherini, who has shown such leadership on this?
As the hon. Gentleman knows well, we work not only hand in glove with the United States, but with our allies, friends and partners in continental Europe. Indeed, that work has intensified over the past few months because, as the Prime Minister has said many times, we may be leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. As for Federica Mogherini, I expect that I shall probably see her next week.
While many across the House will want to continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the Foreign Secretary on the Iran deal, does he nevertheless acknowledge that there remain serious questions about what our wider policy of engagement with the Iranian regime is achieving? Has my right hon. Friend seen anything over the past two years to indicate that Iran is taking steps towards becoming a more responsible member of the international community, instead of remaining the force for chaos and terror that it continues to be?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the UK is in the lead in trying to disrupt malign Iranian behaviour in the region. Whether trying to stop Iranian missiles going to Yemen or to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the UK is doing that. Indeed, this country maintains sanctions on the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. We are determined to bear down on Iranian malign activity, but we can do that while retaining the core achievement of the JCPOA.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the most serious consequences of President Trump’s decision, which the special relationship was unable to prevent, is that it will result in hard-liners in Iran and elsewhere saying, “There is no point in doing deals on security with the United States of America, because it does not keep its word.”?
If the right hon. Gentleman is correct, that is all the more reason for the UK to work to preserve the essentials of the deal. I just remind the House, which may be getting into a mood of undue pessimism, that President Trump said last night that he is committed to finding a new solution, and we should hold him to his word.
One of the deal’s essential elements for Iran is the restoration of commercial banking relationships in return for adherence to the JCPOA—indeed, it is mentioned in the JCPOA—and Iran has adhered to the JCPOA, but we have still seen no sight of any restoration. Will the Foreign Secretary meet me and other members of the all-party parliamentary group on Iran, which has already met the deputy governor of the Bank of England to discuss the matter, to find a way to produce a non-dollar financial arrangement that works, so that Iran can retain some credence in the other partners to the JCPOA?
We have seen that deals can be done without conflicting with the extra-territorial aspects of US sanctions. As I said in my statement earlier on, we will be announcing further steps in due course.
Now that the Government have discovered the limits of sycophancy in dealing with President Trump, will the Foreign Secretary spell out some of the economic implications? Do the Government have any contingency plans to protect British industry and motorists if the withdrawal of 4 million barrels a day of Iranian oil results in an inevitable oil shock?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the UK remains a party to the JCPOA, and we will do our utmost to protect UK commercial interests.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his unswerving loyalty to collective Government policy at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Does he agree that one of the many dangers following the President’s decision is that the so-called moderates in Iran—although they are not very moderate by our standards—will be undermined by the decision, which will strengthen even more hard-line people? While the Foreign Secretary may take steps to try to reduce Iran’s malign behaviour in some areas, will he give an unswerving guarantee that Britain will stick to its commitments under the agreement so long as the Iranians are fully compliant with the commitments that they entered into and that we will not modify that in any way?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend, and I remember getting a lot of wonderful copy when I was a political journalist from his own displays of unswerving loyalty to Government policy. By the way, I am completely in conformity with Government policy on the matters to which I believe he is referring, since that policy has yet to be decided. On his wider point, it is absolutely vital that we continue to get the message over to the moderates in Iran—I include President Rouhani in their number—that the UK remains committed to this agreement.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both praised the joint efforts that have been made with our French and German partners. In the light of the impetuous, destructive, unilateralist behaviour of the US President, is this not the worst possible time for us to be leaving the European Union?
No. On the contrary, what this shows to the meanest intelligence is that we do not have to be a member of the European Union in order to co-operate in the most productive way with our European friends and partners.
But is not the President right in his analysis of this rather flimsy agreement, which should never have been called comprehensive, in that it does not include missiles and that, far from constraining Iranian behaviour, it has enabled the regime to use its new financial freedom to interfere in Syria, in Iraq, and above all in Yemen, and to sponsor further Houthi attacks on our friends in Saudi Arabia?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I do not recall him making those points when he was serving so well as Secretary of State for Defence when the deal was done, and I disagree with him. Of course the JCPOA has its limitations, as I have readily conceded, but its advantage is that it has at its heart the idea of preventing the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon in exchange for limited economic benefits. I still think that that idea has validity, and the Iranians are still in compliance with that agreement, limited though it is.
I am disappointed with today’s statement, because it was not a big surprise when this happened, yet the Foreign Secretary has said that he will come back with some details later on. I do not know why that should be the case, because this was even signposted during the American election. The statement is also light on what we are going to do about the Iranians’ behaviour in the middle east. The Foreign Secretary needs to tell us now when he intends to come back to the House.
As I have said at least twice, I will be informing the House in due course about what further economic steps we will be taking, and I have been very clear about the many things we are doing in the wider middle east to constrain the activities of Iran.
There is no doubt that Iranian interference in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere is a legitimate cause for concern, but does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very poor decision by the President, which flies in the face of the advice of his own people and of America’s most loyal allies? In trying to sustain this agreement, will he work to ensure that the inspection regime—which is, at the end of the day, the crown jewels of the agreement—will still apply?
Yes, of course we will work to ensure that the inspection regime continues. I think there have been about 400 inspections since the JCPOA began, and they have all found that Iran was in compliance. As I have said, it is now up to the United States come forward with a plan, and if it has military options, frankly I have yet to see them.
What discussions will the Foreign Secretary and the other members of the E3 be having with NATO allies? Clearly, they also will be feeling greatly disturbed by this unilateral action by the United States, which will impact on their relationships with Iran.
I am sure that the issue will figure largely at the next meeting of the North Atlantic Council.
In the same way as a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable to the UK, so is Iran’s record on human rights. The Foreign Secretary said in his statement that the UK will continue to “counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region”. What can he do to bring to an end the continuous persecution of the people of the Baha’i state, which has now spread to Yemen, where a prominent Houthi leader has placed a message on social media, threatening to butcher every Baha’i in the country? Surely we should be able to help bring that terrible persecution to an end.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that we repeatedly raise the issues of human rights, the treatment of the Baha’i and other frankly disgusting aspects, not least the death penalty—there are many disgusting aspects of the behaviour of the Iranian regime—whenever we meet our Iranian counterparts.
The Israeli Government do not believe that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement. Iranian opposition groups are saying that the Iranian regime is using revenue from the lifting of sanctions to finance terrorism across the middle east, and of course Iran has played an important part in the conflict in Syria and Yemen. In the light of that behaviour, does the Foreign Secretary accept that the decision by the American President has some validity, and that it will send an important message to a regime that is out of control?
On the contrary—I thought that the most powerful point about Benjamin Netanyahu’s slideshow was that it showed that Iran did indeed have a nuclear weapons ambition up to 2003, and it showed, therefore, the importance of beginning a process of negotiation to get Iran to stop that ambition, and that is what the JCPOA did. I remind the hon. Gentleman and others in the House that many sanctions on Iran are currently in place, and they will abide.
My right hon. Friend was surely absolutely right to go to America to seek to stop the President dismissing this agreement, in the same way as he is absolutely right to meet Nelson Chamisa, the Leader of the Opposition in Zimbabwe, today on his visit to London. In respect of Iran, surely British foreign policy should be to try and bring Iran into the comity of nations and build on the existing agreement, rather than can it.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. That is not just the UK’s ambition but the ambition of our European friends and partners, and it remains the ambition—and, by the way, I believe that eventually we will pull it off.
Will this unilateral decision in effect mean that the United States—a country that we are setting great store by in terms of trade—will be introducing sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, against UK companies that continue to trade with Iran?
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the extraterritorial impact of US sanctions. There may be a staggered period of either 90 or 180 days before that extraterritorial impact is felt. We will have to see exactly how it plays out, but we will do our utmost to protect UK commercial interests.
Will the UK tell the US that we would of course be very happy to work with them to try and limit the abuses of the Iranian regime and to control the missile programme better? May I also say how much I support my right hon. Friend on the UK’s need for an independent trade policy with functioning borders?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for shoehorning in that very important point at this juncture.
We all agree that Trump’s reckless decision has made the world a more dangerous place, but does the Foreign Secretary also agree that that makes the rule of international law even more important? Does he recognise the rank hypocrisy of Britain’s lecturing other countries that are seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, while we keep our own—and indeed enhance them—in direct contravention of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Is it not time that we joined those 122 countries that have been negotiating a nuclear-ban treaty at the UN and sought some world leadership on the world stage?
I think most people in the House understand that the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent keeps the peace that other countries would want to threaten.
I cannot say that President Trump is my cup of tea, but Iran’s actions in the middle east go down like a cup of cold sick. They support terrorism, Hamas and Hezbollah, they suppress their own people at home with the death penalty, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned, and they are supporters of President Assad. I think that rather than appeasing Iran, we should be supporting our oldest ally, the United States, and recognising that it has taken this decision because the Iranians are backing down on the agreement and are continuing with ballistic missiles.
There was not a word that I could disagree with in the first half of my right hon. Friend’s question, and of course it is true that Iran is up to all sorts of bad behaviour in the region; but the Iranians are not in violation of the JCPOA—on their ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, they are obeying the letter of that agreement. Yes, it is perfectly true that they are not in conformity with UN resolution 2231 in respect of ballistic missiles, but there we are holding them to account and there is the prospect of extra sanctions to bring them into line.
Further to that question, does the Foreign Secretary agree that Iran’s appalling destabilising behaviour in the wider region, including its support of terrorism, would be even more dangerous if its nuclear programme goes unchecked, and that it is therefore not just in Britain’s national interests, but in the interests of America and the world that the JCPOA remains in place?
That was very well put.
While the signing of treaties of this sort can lead to political advance, does my right hon. Friend agree that the history of the biological weapons convention of 1972, which was exposed in 1992 as having been broken from day one for 20 years by the then Soviet Union, shows that in reality our security depends on the twin pillars of the independent strategic nuclear deterrent and our alliance, through NATO, with the United States of America?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would also say that the JCPOA has depended not on trust—not on believing the Iranians—but on independent verification, which has been carried out countless times.
Many of us who do not support the President’s decision would argue that the JCPOA contains some very serious flaws, including the lack of a clear plan—what happens when the agreement ends in 2025?—the weak inspection regime, the absence of any restraint on Iran’s ballistic missile programme, and the failure to address its pernicious influence in the middle east, not least its repeated threats to annihilate Israel. I hope that the Foreign Secretary is not playing down these flaws. I urge the Government not only to stick with the agreement, but to push to mend it.
The right hon. Lady speaks a good deal of sense. It is a limitation that there is no agreement on the ballistic missile programme, or indeed on Iran’s wider behaviour in the region, but it would have been impossible to get an agreement on the nuclear dossier if those had been brought in. The United States thinks differently, and the President has a global vision of bringing these dossiers together and solving the problem as one. We have yet to see the detail on how he intends to do it, but we will certainly be as supportive as we can.
We should not underestimate the importance of maintaining a positive direction of travel in the region, particularly given that it will take a series of steps to reach desired outcomes. Given that all the evidence suggests that Iran has adhered to the agreement, has the time come for the international community to act in concert in pursuing and maintaining this agreement, even if that means isolating the US for the time being, not just diplomatically but when it comes to sanctions against Iran, where possible?
I must say that, speaking as somebody who was born in New York, now I come to think of it, I see absolutely no advantage in isolating the United States, our closest and most important ally. Our job of work on the Government side of the House is to bring the United States back into agreement and to get a successor deal that the President wants to achieve.
The Foreign Secretary is well aware of the case of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has now been in prison in Iran for two years, one month and seven days. Nazanin has been told explicitly by sources in the judiciary that her imprisonment is linked to the unpaid debt that our country owes Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary assure me that when he is negotiating with Iran in the coming days he will talk about paying back that debt and bringing my constituent back home to West Hampstead?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she has done for her constituent. As I have said to her many times, we have a number of very tough consular cases with Iran—alas, the number is growing—and they do not necessarily benefit from day-to-day discussions, as she knows.
The economic advantages of the agreement have been used by the hard-liners to project malign power throughout the region, so will my right hon. Friend agree to support proportionate measures brought forward by the President to constrain that power?
Yes, if he comes back into the deal.
This very worrying decision by President Trump could lead to at least three cataclysmic scenarios: first, the takeover of the Iranian regime by hard-liners; secondly, the eventual development of an Iranian nuclear bomb; and thirdly, ultimately, another war in the middle east. Which scenarios does the Foreign Secretary consider to be most likely?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Iran remains in compliance. Iran has not elected to proceed to enrichment or to break out of the agreement, and the UK will be working to ensure that remains the case.
The agreement has unfortunately enabled Iran to spend over $100 billion over the past five years on its operations in Syria, and it is spending even more on its intercontinental ballistic missile programme. Many people believe that a country does not spend billions on an ICBM programme merely to put a $100 TNT warhead on it. Can my right hon. Friend not at least understand the motivation of the United States Administration and perhaps work with them on this?
We are of course working hand-in-glove with the United States, but we do believe that there were advantages in maintaining the discrete deal at the heart of the JCPOA and stopping Iranian breakout. We thought that was a good idea. We certainly share the general ambition across the House to constrain Iran’s malignant activity.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom have stood shoulder to shoulder in supporting the nuclear peace deal, and the US has walked away. Does that not show that it is not the customs union that is crazy, but the idea that we can instead have a trade deal with the United States that we think will put mutual interests before Trump’s and the US’s self-interest?
I am sure that in due course we will get a great trade deal with the United States, so I am not quite sure what that has to do with the JCPOA.
The truth is that there are no moderates in the Iranian regime, and the use of that word leads to conclusions that are simply not the case. It is a regime that murders its own people, including minorities, that is an exporter of terrorism, and that is destabilising the middle east. Perhaps the fact that none of that is covered under the JCPOA explains why Iran may indeed be compliant with it. I therefore urge the Foreign Secretary to work with the United States on a replacement to the deal, that deals with Iran’s increasingly malign and dangerous influences elsewhere in the middle east.
I hope that my hon. Friend will use his good offices to encourage the United States to come forward with detail on such plans at its earliest convenience.
In terms of practicalities, what is the Department’s assessment of a successor trade deal with the United States when that country might punish UK companies that are legitimately conducting business in Iran under international agreements?
As I have said several times, we will do everything that we can to protect legitimate commercial activity by UK concerns.
Is it the case that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are still being denied access to key sites across Iran? If so, how can we have any confidence at all that Iran is honouring its commitments?
Mr Amano has told me that the IAEA is getting all the access it needs. Indeed Mike Pompeo, the head of US intelligence, has confirmed that Iran is now in compliance with the JCPOA.
The Foreign Secretary said that he has no difficulty with President Trump’s goal of working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. The Foreign Secretary then asked how the US proposes to achieve that. What suggestions does he have for the United States President?
I thought that we made a series of very fruitful suggestions, and we will continue to make such suggestions. The central idea is that, around the core of the JCPOA, we build a superstructure—a follow-on agreement—that addresses the problems of the sunset clauses and the issues of the ICBMs, and satisfies the anxieties of the President and of many colleagues in the House today.
My right hon. Friend is obviously much better briefed than I am but, as I understand it, Iran is not in compliance with all the letter of the agreement. Can he assure me that Israel, which the Iranians have sworn to wipe off the earth, will not now strike Iran in a counter-attack to prevent any further escalation in building nuclear missiles?
As I have said several times, to the best of my knowledge Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. It would be rash of me to seek to pronounce on behalf of the Israeli Government at this stage.
What assessment has the Foreign Office made of Mr Trump’s announcement in February 2018 that the US will develop a batch of new smaller nuclear weapons? Mr Trump reportedly asked his foreign policy advisers why the US does not use nuclear weapons. Will the Foreign Secretary please make it clear to the House that it is never in any country’s interest to use nuclear weapons?
I think that the President of the United States understands the logic of nuclear deterrence as well as anyone, and that logic is to avoid the use of nuclear weapons.
The JCPOA was rushed and flawed, and it was never ratified by Congress, which is one of the reasons why it was vulnerable to being changed by President Trump. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that whatever structure replaces the JCPOA is built on firmer foundations and goes through Congress, and is therefore sustainable, to ensure that Iran does not continue to flout international laws and norms and does not abuse its own people and others, and to minimise the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran?
The JCPOA took 13 years to negotiate, so to say it was rushed is perhaps a slight exaggeration. I want the House to remember the crucial point that the JCPOA has not gone. The JCPOA is there, and the UK is a party to it, as are France, Germany, Russia, China, the EU and Iran, and that will continue. We will do our level best, around that core, to build a superstructure or entablature—whatever we want to call it—to allay my hon. Friend’s understandable concerns.
Although I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary cannot go into detail here, can he assure us that the Intelligence and Security Committee will be briefed on what reassessments now need to be done of the global threat to United Kingdom citizens so that this Parliament can be assured that our security services are taking cognisance of the increased risk we now face as a result of the premature and stupid actions of our so-called closest ally?
For the hon. Gentleman’s reassurance, I refer him to the answer I have given several times today. Iran has decided, for the time being at least, to remain in compliance with the JCPOA, and the UK will work to try to perpetuate that agreement.
One of the problems faced under the agreement is that Iran has continued to develop nuclear facilities, such as the one discovered at Fordow and that recently discovered at Natanz—Natanz was discovered only by opposition groups in Iran. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that those facilities, which were not included in the original agreement, have been inspected and are in conformance with the deal? Is not one of the problems that the deal does not constrain Iran from developing further nuclear facilities?
My hon. Friend speaks on this matter with a great deal of interest and authority. The IAEA has conducted 400 inspections and confirmed nine times that Iran is in compliance. Iran has reduced its number of centrifuges by two thirds and its stock of enriched uranium by 95%. On that basis alone, the agreement must be counted a success.
First the Paris agreement and now the Iran deal—does this show that the USA’s signature is not worth the paper it is written on? Our Government must show that we honour our agreements. We must particularly protect British interests and British companies against forthcoming US sanctions that will affect us. Will the Secretary of State build an alliance with the remaining partners in the Iran deal, whose collective GDP is twice the USA’s, and use the EU sanctions-blocking regulations that were first used in 1996? Just as we have on the Paris agreement, will we strengthen our resolve to thwart this retrograde step by the Trump Administration?
We will certainly work with our friends and partners to keep the deal going and to protect the interests of UK companies and people.
The nuclear deal with Iran does not end Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. At best, it just pauses the programme until 2025. By the Foreign Secretary’s own admission, Iran will then be capable of developing a deliverable nuclear weapon within a year. The price for all that, in the meantime, is that the sanctions relief is funding a campaign of terror throughout the region. We complain frequently in the House about the fact that millions of people are living in misery in Yemen. Well, that is because of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebellion, which is funded by this sanctions relief. There are hundreds of thousands of rockets on Israel’s northern border. Appeasement did not work in the 1930s, and it will not work now.
I am absolutely at one with my hon. Friend in his desire to be tough on Iran. The question is whether we can achieve that by getting rid of the JCPOA. If we get rid of the JCPOA, what would our subsequent plans be? What would be the options, really, for being tough on Iran in the way he wants? The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) suggested bombing but, after closely interrogating everybody I could find in the White House, I would say that there is no enthusiasm in the United States for a military option, and there is no such plan. What we want to hear now is the successor plan.
I refer the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister’s statement at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit in 2016:
“I am clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and the wider Middle East.”
She said that we will work with our GCC partners to “counter that threat.” Can the Secretary of State clarify what tangibly has been done to counter that threat? Apart from all the countries named today, another country, Morocco, expelled the Iranian ambassador this May in relation to Iran’s aggressive behaviour in Morocco. The deal was defective, so do we carry on with a defective deal, or do we stand by our principles and say that enough is enough?
What we do is recognise that the deal itself is not defective, but that we have other challenges in countering Iranian malign behaviour. As my hon. Friend knows, we have 214 separate sanctions regimes, and the UK is in the lead in trying to halt the distribution of Iranian missiles and other malign activity across the region. That is the way to do it.
The breadth and scope of the Iranian nuclear programme indicates that it is not exclusively for civilian use. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the Prime Minister of Israel’s comments that Iran has already taken steps to revive its nuclear programme and is very likely to do so, particularly in 2025?
As I say, the show and tell by Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that Iran did have a nuclear ambition in the run-up to 2003. I thought that his logic indicated that it was a good idea to have a JCPOA and to stop Iran going ahead with a nuclear weapon. I must say to all those who have alternative ideas for restraining Iran in its acquisition of a nuclear weapon that if they have a military solution and if they have alternative ideas, now is the time for them to come forward with those ideas.
My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he believes that the agreement is being upheld by Iran. What is his view on encouraging legitimate trade between it and our country to help to foster good relations?
It is important that we continue to do that, in the spirit of the agreement and to support legitimate UK business activity.
Nobody is in any doubt that the Iranian regime is responsible for great terror and often war, certainly in the region and in other areas of the world. My right hon. Friend, as a scholar of Churchill, will recognise the phrase, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” so may I congratulate him on going out to Washington? He will also recognise that this is about not just the White House, but Capitol Hill. As we try to lead America to work on the deal and see how it can be adjusted, he should therefore also give attention to the House of Representatives.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in building our relationships with Capitol Hill. As he knows, in Congress there is a very wide measure of support for the JCPOA and a great deal of confusion about the exact motives of the White House in choosing to walk away from it.
My right hon. Friend would have preferred America to stay in the nuclear agreement, but given that it has not, will he say what scope he sees in working with the US to constrain Iran’s wider activities, which are destabilising the region?
America is our No. 1 friend, ally and partner, and we will continue to work with it to constrain Iran’s malign behaviour in the region in every possible way.
The Foreign Secretary has my support for the line he has taken, but he probably has less support from the Israelis, Saudis, Emiratis and other key partners in the region. What steps has he taken over the weekend to reassure those friends of ours in the region of our commitment to supporting them against the malign threat of Iran?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We have made it very clear to our good friends in the Gulf that we do not share entirely their perspective on this matter and that we do think there are merits in the nuclear deal—they understand that. I must say to all those who want an alternative future in the Gulf and elsewhere that it is incumbent on them to show us a better way of constraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, specifically.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that whereas some may disagree with what the President has done, it is a mistake to indulge in any anti-American rhetoric, as the US is, and remains by a country mile, our most important ally?
I thank my hon. Friend, salute his sentiments, and wish that they were more widely shared across the House.
When the House considered this deal a couple of years ago, I said that it was about one issue and not about taking our eye off the range of appalling issues the Iranian regime is responsible for, not least its appalling human rights record. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it is regrettable that the US has pulled out, Iran still needs to stick to this deal and, ultimately, it will be up to Iran whether it has a nuclear programme or not?
That is completely right and, as all hon. Members will recall, it is in the preamble of the JCPOA that Iran forswears nuclear weapons and Iran is still a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty.
From Beirut to Basra, Iran is a malign influence in the region, with its destabilising activities and its hegemonic ambitions. I agree with, and welcome, the statement from my right hon. Friend at the weekend that there are flaws in the deal. What reassurance can he give the House about steps he will be taking, alongside our ambassador in Iran, to cover those flaws? What tangible progress is being made to curtail Iran’s activities?
The most important thing we can do, as I have said several times, is to deal with the problem of the sunset clauses, which has been identified repeatedly across the House, and with the ICBMs—I think we have dealt with the issue of inspection—and then to constrain Iran’s wider activity in the region. As I have said repeatedly, we are working closely with the Americans and others to do so.