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Middle East

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2019

5. What recent discussions he has had with his Iranian counterpart on the political and security situation in the middle east. (911543)

13. What recent assessment he has made of the potential risk of military conflict between the US and Iran. (911552)

We are very concerned about the situation in the middle east and the risks of an accidental war. We have made serious efforts to de-escalate tension, including the visit by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East to Tehran at the end of last week.

With regard to the recent tanker attacks, the UN Secretary-General has stated that the truth will be known only if an independent entity verifies the facts. Does the Secretary of State agree with that and will he confirm that the UK will not be dragged blindly, with the US, into a war against the wider wishes of the international community?

The US is our closest ally. We talk to it the whole time. We consider any requests that it makes carefully, but I cannot envisage any situation in which it requests, or we agree to, any moves to go to war.

I think the whole House appreciates the efforts that were made by the Minister for the Middle East at the weekend to de-escalate this crisis, but can the Secretary of State tell us what work is being done with the UN to make further progress?

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. We have been doing extensive work. The message that we are sending with our partners in the European Union, particularly the French and the Germans, is that, with respect to Iran’s nuclear programme, this is a crucial week. Iran has said that it will reach the limits of what it is allowed for low-enriched uranium by 27 June, which is later on this week. It is absolutely essential that it sticks to that deal in its entirety for it to be preserved and for us to have a nuclear-free middle east.

May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East on his visit to Tehran, which I know that he will have found as fascinating as I always did? In his conversations about Iran with his US counterparts, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to remind them of David Petraeus’s key question: “Tell Me How This Ends?”. Although it is very clear that Iran has to take actions to assuage regional tensions, does he agree that the United States needs to move cautiously and listen to wise voices such as those of Dr Anwar Gargash who urges political solutions to long-standing and complex regional problems?

No one speaks more wisely on the middle east than my right hon. Friend after his very long and distinguished time in the Foreign Office with responsibility for that brief. He is, of course, right. Neither side wants war in this situation, but it is very important that there are ladders for people to climb down so that discussions and negotiations can take place.

I, too, commend the Minister for the Middle East for his visit to Iran. Time and again, Iran demonstrates that it has no intention of being a serious and responsible member of the international community through its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile tests and its export of terror and violence throughout the region. Are we not naive in thinking that with a bit more love and a bit more carrot, Iran will change its ways?

My right hon. Friend speaks very wisely on this. The truth is that the only real solution to this problem is for Iran to stop its destabilising activities in Yemen, which has seen missiles being fired into airports in Saudi Arabia; in Lebanon, which is seeing Hezbollah activity and attacks happening on Israel; and in Iraq and in Syria. That is the long-term solution.

US President Donald Trump said this weekend that all the current tension with Iran could disappear if only Tehran agreed to co-operate on ending its nuclear programme. Have the Government tried to explain to the President that if he wants to achieve that outcome, all it takes is for all sides to honour the terms of the Iran nuclear deal—the joint comprehensive plan of action?

May I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the cause of the problems is that destabilising activity by Iran has continued even after the JCPOA? It has had success in restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that is why we continue to support it, but we are not going to get proper peace in the middle east unless we end those thoroughly destabilising activities.