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Iran Nuclear Deal

Volume 641: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2018

4. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the future of the Iran nuclear deal. (905284)

As the House will understand, the UK continues to work hard with all our friends and partners—particularly the other European signatories to the joint comprehensive plan of action—to keep that deal alive. We believe that it is of fundamental importance that Iran was not in breach of the JCPOA last week. It is still not in breach of the JCPOA this week. There are advantages to maintaining the essence of that deal, so we will continue to work for that and to protect the interests of UK business in Iran.

Recent tensions between Israel and Iran underline the importance of the nuclear deal, and we should not forget how close the west and Iran came to conflict over the nuclear issue in 2012. The Government have rightly maintained their full support for the agreement, but exactly how far are they prepared to go, in concert with their allies, to keep this deal alive—including, if necessary, protecting companies that trade with Iran from American sanctions?

My hon. Friend brings a great deal of learning to this subject. This issue is difficult because of the extraterritorial effect of US sanctions; when companies touch the live wire of the American financial network, they find themselves almost immediately sanctioned. I am going to Brussels this afternoon to talk to our European friends about what we can do to work together to protect the interests of UK and other European businesses.

When the Foreign Secretary goes to Brussels, will he explain to our European friends that this country values our defence and security partnership with our European Union partners? Will he also say positive things about whether we will be joining permanent structured co-operation—PESCO—and co-operating with the other European countries in the future?

I can direct the hon. Gentleman to no better text than the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech—fleshed out by her Mansion House speech—in which she made it clear that the UK’s commitment to the defence and security of our friends and partners is unconditional and indivisible.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; that is very kind. The Iranian Government responded to President Trump’s announcement last week by showering Israel with rockets using their own forces inside Syria. What does my right hon. Friend think those forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are actually doing inside Syria? If the Iran nuclear deal was not the thing to encourage Iran to become a more responsible member of the international community, what does he think will be?

My right hon. Friend is completely right to raise the disgraceful behaviour of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the missiles that are fired from Syria at Israel and elsewhere. The JCPOA was not designed to constrain that activity; it was specifically designed to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and it has succeeded in that effort so far. That is why we propose to keep the core of that deal alive, but to work with our friends and partners to constrain the malign activity that my right hon. Friend describes.

Last July, at a conference of the Iranian resistance movement in Paris attended by a number of Conservative Members, John Bolton announced that the Iranian regime is

“not going to change…the only solution is to change the regime…And that’s why, before 2019, we…will celebrate in Tehran!”

Now that Mr Bolton is President Trump’s national security adviser, does the Foreign Secretary believe that regime change is still his objective?

I have a very high regard for John Bolton and his intelligence and vision, but I have to say that I do not believe that regime change in Tehran is the objective that we should be seeking. I must be very clear with the hon. Gentleman that I think that we might conceivably achieve regime change at some stage in the near future, but I cannot with any confidence say that that would be a change for the better, because it seems equally plausible to me to imagine that Qasem Soleimani of the IRGC could put himself in a very good position to take over from Ayatollah Khamenei, for instance.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that there is a temptation among his allies to point the finger at the United States and heap opprobrium on it when he goes to Brussels. May I urge him to point out to them that, since sanctions were lifted on Iran, it has used the money that it has earned to invest in developing ballistic missiles, to start a proxy war in Yemen and to interfere in Syria? Will he remind them that notwithstanding the fact that it was a narrow deal, there is a real, serious threat from Iran that needs to be dealt with?

My right hon. Friend is completely right, and that is indeed what we intend to do. But we also intend to try to address the substantive difficulties in the JCPOA itself—the fact that it expired, the fact that the sunset clauses are not adequate and the fact that in 2025 it is at least theoretically possible for Iran to proceed very rapidly to break out to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is a legitimate concern of President Trump, and we have to deal with it as well.