With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Iran.
The United Kingdom has always been clear-sighted about our engagement with Iran. We want to see Iran come in from the cold, but that can happen only if Iran shows the respect required for the basic principles of the rules-based international system.
Iran’s violations are not mere technical breaches of international rules; they are serious and systemic destabilising actions that undermine the international rule of law. Those actions must have consequences. Take first the recent attacks on the Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia. On 14 September, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles hit an oil field and a processing facility.
As the UK Government, we took our time to assess the facts carefully and independently. We are now confident that Iran was responsible. The evidence is clear and there is no plausible alternative explanation. This conduct amounts to an armed attack on Saudi Arabia, a violation of one of the basic principles of international law under the United Nations charter.
The attacks caused serious damage in Saudi Arabia and affected 5% of the world’s oil supply. In those circumstances, the UK has sought, and will continue to seek, to de-escalate tensions. However, our response is also an acid test of our resolve. We have condemned the attacks in co-ordination not just with Saudi Arabia and the United States, but with our European partners. I draw the attention of the House to the E3 statement released yesterday after meetings in New York. We will now continue to work with the widest international support to determine the most effective response.
At the same time, Iran’s attacks on the Aramco facilities are a reminder of the importance of ensuring that Iran never gains access to nuclear weapons. That is why the UK remains committed to the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action, notwithstanding US withdrawal. Equally, we have always recognised that it is not a perfect deal. The JCPOA has its strengths, including its provisions granting the International Atomic Energy Agency unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it also has its limitations. Its provisions are time limited, with some expiring next year, and it was never designed to address our long-standing concern about Iran’s wider destabilising behaviour in the region.
Since May, Iran has gradually reduced its compliance with key aspects of the JCPOA, putting the deal at risk. Before any wider progress is possible, Iran must reverse those steps and must come back into full compliance. At the same time, as both President Trump and President Macron have said, we can improve upon the JCPOA. Ultimately, we need a longer-term framework that provides greater certainty over Iran’s nuclear programme and, as the attacks on Aramco demonstrate, we must also bring Iran’s wider destabilising activities into scope. That includes putting an end to Iran’s violations of the freedom of navigation, which are disrupting shipping in the strait of Hormuz and undermining the international law of the sea.
Alongside our partners—the US, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain—we remain committed to the International Maritime Security Construct to ensure freedom of navigation in the region. We also welcome the European-led initiatives to achieve the same goals. We want the widest international support to uphold the rules-based international order.
We must also see an end to Iran’s interference in Yemen, which has stoked further conflict through support for the Houthi rebels and fuelled the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today. A political solution is the only viable way to bring peace to that terrible conflict. Iran must start to play a constructive, instead of destructive, role in that conflict.
Finally, when it comes to respecting international law, Iran’s dire human rights record continues to be a serious concern to the United Kingdom, especially its practice of arbitrary detention of dual nationals. Today a range of UK dual nationals are languishing in jail in Iran. They have typically been arrested on spurious charges, denied due process and subjected to mistreatment, contrary to the basic tenets of international human rights law. This practice causes great anguish and suffering not just to those detained but to their families.
Iran’s behaviour is unlawful, cruel and totally unacceptable. I have raised all these cases, along with Iran’s wider conduct, with Foreign Minister Zarif, and the Prime Minister raised the cases with President Rouhani yesterday in New York. We will continue to press for their release.
Iran’s record of respect for the basic rules of international law is woeful, and it is getting worse. Let us be clear about this and about the Iranian Government’s responsibility for the plight of their own people. It is a matter of political choice—their Government’s choice—yet, even now, we retain the hope that we can work with Iran and with our international partners to de-escalate tensions, to rebuild confidence and to establish a clear path for Iran towards international respectability.
Iran is a proud nation with a rich history and remarkable economic potential. It is held back by a regime that fails to respect the fundamental tenets of the rules-based international system. Iran faces a choice: it can double down on its approach, in which case the international opposition to its behaviour will only intensify; or it can take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions and rebuild international confidence by respecting international law and reducing the range of threats it presents to its neighbours. That is the only path to stability and prosperity for Iran and the wider region, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.
We have been summoned back here due to the unlawful actions of the Prime Minister, attempting to avoid debate on one vital issue, but it is important that we debate other vital issues, including the threat of war with Iran. First, Mr Speaker, may I take the opportunity of this discussion of vital issues in the middle east to apologise publicly to my Liberal Democrat colleagues for my crass throwaway “Taliban” remark in an interview last week? I am sorry for what I said. I believe that our politics is better when we are honest and apologise for our mistakes—a lesson that our country’s Prime Minister, Her Majesty’s Prime Minister, would be well placed to learn.
I do not have a scintilla of doubt that Iran was responsible for the drone attacks in Saudi Arabia and the attacks on oil tankers in Hormuz. I totally agree with the Foreign Secretary that Iran’s actions are utterly unacceptable and must be condemned by all sides. Sadly, this was all too predictable, because just like during the tanker wars in the 1980s, there is a reckless and ruthless logic being applied by the Iranian hard-line theocrats who are now in the ascendancy in Iran, and it is this: “If you stop our oil supplies, we’re going to stop yours.”
That development has been inevitable since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran. There are absolutely no excuses for what Iran has done, but there is also no excuse for the Trump Administration wilfully wrecking the nuclear deal, destroying the chances of progress on other issues, and handing power back to the Khamenei hard-liners, who have always wanted to reverse the Rouhani Government’s attempt to engage with the west. What are we left with now? With a Trump Administration agitating for war and Iranian hard-liners actively trying to provoke it—war with a country that is nine times the size of Syria and has three times Syria’s pre-war population. That leaves us with a choice to make as a world and, even more important, a choice to make as a country and as a Parliament.
In an era when we can no longer rely on the United States to provide any global leadership on matters of peace and war, or anything to do with the middle east, we need the EU and the UN to step up, to do our job and to demand that, after working so hard to negotiate the nuclear deal, we will not let it be thrown away and allow the spiral into war to continue. As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, real security does not come from belligerent posturing or reckless military interventions; it comes from international co-operation and diplomacy. Let me add that it does not come from what successive Governments have done by committing to military intervention with no planning for what comes next, creating chaos in the aftermath and opening up ungoverned spaces in which the evil of jihadist death cults thrives.
If war with Iran is where the world is headed and we cannot stop it, we have a choice to make as a country, and we should have a choice to make in this Parliament. That choice is whether our country is involved and the lives of our servicepeople are put at risk as a result of a power struggle between Tehran and Riyadh, as a result of a power struggle between Khamenei and Rouhani, and as a result of a power-crazed president in the White House who wants to start wars rather than end them. In that climate, there is only one thing we should be doing now, and that is working to de-escalate the tension with Iran, getting the nuclear deal back on track, and using that as the foundation, which it promised to be, of addressing all the other concerns that we have about Iran, not least its continued detention of Nazanin and other dual British nationals.
Instead, at this crucial moment, we have a Prime Minister openly talking about sending troops to Saudi Arabia, in an apparent bid to please Donald Trump. As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, have we learned nothing? On a day when we are also rightly focused on the powers of Parliament and the abuse of power by the Government, let me close by asking the Foreign Secretary one simple but vital question. Will he guarantee that, before any decision to join Donald Trump in military action against Iran and to put British servicepeople in harm’s way, this House will be asked to approve that action and given the chance to save our country from the disaster that war with Iran would be?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her remarks. I think we have agreement on at least some of them—on unequivocally condemning Iran for its responsibility for the Aramco attacks, for its attacks on shipping in the strait of Hormuz and for its treatment of dual nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
I share the right hon. Lady’s view that we want to maintain the JCPOA and that we remain committed to it, and that is the position of the Government. However, we can, we should and we must do better, because the JCPOA is limited. That is now recognised by the President of the United States—she has lambasted that—but also by the French President. Rather than trying to engage in tit for tat over whether this a European or a US initiative, we should welcome the opportunity to forge a stronger international consensus. The choice here is not between the US and Iran, Saudi and Iran, or indeed the US and the EU, which is the paradigm the right hon. Lady presented. The choice is about those of us who are willing to stand up and uphold the rules-based international order, and the UK will be unflinching and unwavering in committing to doing that.
The right hon. Lady also talked—she will correct me if I am wrong—about whether the UK will be sending troops to Saudi Arabia. There has been no suggestion of that at all; it is simply wrong for her to say it. What has been said is that the US is sending troops to Saudi Arabia to make sure that Saudi can protect itself from further attacks or repeats of the attacks on Aramco. We have said that we would consider requests that we have received for support in relation to air defences. However, we are absolutely clear that our overarching strategic objective is de-escalation and reducing tensions. We want to see Iran come in from the international cold, but we need to be absolutely unwavering and clear in our resolve that the only way that that will happen is if Iran steps up and starts to meet its responsibilities, whether it is on dual nationals, nuclear compliance or the basic rules of international law, such as not attacking one’s neighbours.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement on Iran and the clarity of the position he has set out. It is important that we remember that Iran has been an aggressor to not just British dual nationals but people around the region, sponsoring, in many ways, the invasion of Syria and the violence that has caused millions of people to be displaced from their homes and hundreds of thousands to be killed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent decision by the Iranian Government to put further fuel on that fire by sailing the Grace 1 into Syrian waters is simply further confirmation that this terrible regime is breaking international rules at every turn? Does he also agree that getting allies and partners, such as India and China, to support our actions in this area is essential? It is actually essential to them, too, if they are to prosper from the international system that has made them rich.
I thank my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is absolutely right that the behaviour in relation to not only Syria but Grace 1 is contrary to the international good. That is particularly true in terms of the breaching of sanctions on Syria and the support for the Assad regime, but also in terms of the absolutely explicit assurances that were given to the United Kingdom that these things would not happen.
I also share my hon. Friend’s view that, rather than asking, as the shadow Foreign Minister did, whether there is a tit for tat or a spat between the US and the EU on this, we want the broadest basis of international support, to provide the most effective response and the clearest signal to Iran that its behaviour cannot continue.
I am particularly grateful that we are able to raise important issues such as this in Parliament just now. I also thank the Foreign Secretary for early sight of his statement.
We have long argued on the SNP Benches that there is a need for engagement, cool heads and dialogue, and that is especially important when dealing with the de-escalation of conflict in the middle east, as well as the nuclear threat. It is also important that we work with those who should be closest to us politically, and I welcome the joint statement with France and Germany. It is so important that we make progress and get the JCPOA back on track. We should be closest to our European partners.
We condemn the attacks on the Aramco facilities, just as we condemn any attacks on civilian targets in the Arabian Peninsula. When dealing with a regime such as Iran that regularly flouts human rights and international norms, it is critical that we lead by example. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must respect the rule of law and that any comparisons of the UK and Iranian judicial process would be deeply irresponsible? Does he also agree that we must adhere to that rules-based system, which means that any rules that the court hands down on arms sales to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere must be adhered to?
Finally, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other UK nationals who are being held must be the highest priority for the Government. As this is a critical and complicated issue, may I gently ask the Foreign Secretary to ensure that, when the Prime Minister is in meetings with the Iranians or is dealing with this, he is fully briefed so that he can do no more damage than he has already done?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We certainly agree that we want to be in partnership with our EU partners, but again I gently push back on this idea that that is enough—it is not. We need the broadest international response to provide the clearest signal to Iran about its behaviour and to deter any future attacks, as we have seen in relation to Aramco. He is absolutely right that if we are going to talk about adhering to international law, we need to practise what we preach. In relation to any judicial proceedings on export licences, we will adhere to them meticulously and fully. Ultimately, the most important thing in relation to dual nationals is that we are absolutely clear not just with Iran, but working with our international partners, that this behaviour is unacceptable. There is no quid pro quo in any of this. The treatment of our dual nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is unlawful and unacceptable and it must end. They cannot be treated, in the words of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), who did such a great job on this, as “political hostages”, which is tantamount to what is being done at the moment. We will be absolutely unwavering in raising these cases.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister raised these cases with President Rouhani yesterday, so I hope that he can be reassured that we take this matter seriously and raise it at every possible opportunity.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment, for which I was delighted to be the warm-up act. Does he agree that western policy towards Iran is, unfortunately, basically failing? It is failing to stop malign activity, as we saw with Aramco, failing to stop re-nuclearisation, and failing to stop hostage taking, which has sadly continued long after the case of Nazanin. Is not the answer close alignment between the United States and Europe, clearer consequences for wrongdoing, and a ladder for Iran to climb down so that we can get out of this incredibly dangerous situation?
I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to the professionalism, dynamism, and the values and integrity that he brought to the post in his time as Foreign Secretary. I am very lucky to have taken over a team that is at the top of its game, owing in no small part to his efforts. I agree with the basic ingredients that he has set out. We need the widest possible international support—not just from the EU, not just from the US but the broadest international support—and very clear consequences for Iran if its unlawful behaviour in all the different areas that we are talking about—nuclear, dual nationals, and the attacks on Aramco—continues.
With such a glittering array of parliamentary celebrities on both sides, it is difficult to know whom to choose, but I think that I must call not just a Member, I say for the benefit of observers, but a president—the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Madeleine Moon.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This week, Iran has announced its intention of carrying out exercises in the Gulf, along with China and Russia. How is this a decrease in an escalation of tension and what risks does the Secretary of State see arising from this announcement?
The hon. Lady has highlighted precisely why we need the broadest international support for delivering the clearest messages to Iran. We talked to the Russians and the Chinese—both permanent members of the UN Security Council—about their responsibilities for maintaining the principles of the UN charter and the base tenets of international human rights law. This only goes to show why we need the broadest possible range of allies and partners in getting that message across and draining Iran from any of the otherwise alternative sources and bases of support that it would have.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I have always been extremely sceptical about the JCPOA because of the financial front- loading that has enabled Iran to finance international terrorism, and—as my right hon. Friend said—because of the lack of restraint on Iran’s regional destabilisations. If Iran continues to be in breach of the JCPOA, as it is when it says that it will continue to accelerate uranium enrichment, will the UK, under the agreement, trigger the process that would result in the snapback of UN sanctions?
I share some of my right hon. Friend’s concerns in relation to the JCPOA. It is clear that Iran cannot continue to go down the path that it is on without significant consequences. If he does not mind, I am not going to get ahead of myself with regard to what we will do in any set of circumstances in the future. The most important thing now is that Iran returns to full compliance with the JCPOA and ends its destabilising conduct in the region.
I am keen to accommodate colleagues, but I am also keen to proceed to the next statement as close as possible to 6.30 pm. I am sure that colleagues will take their cue from that and will be admirably succinct.
It was not always the case that we slammed Iran in this Chamber; 25 years ago when I stood at the Dispatch Box, I in fact congratulated Iran for helping to save the Kurdish population who were fleeing across the mountains. The Turks shut the borders and the Iranians opened the borders, so at that time we were congratulating Iran on its moves. But may I say, as somebody who has campaigned for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, that we are all concerned about the deterioration of relationships and that I would like to know exactly what we are doing? It is very vague; we are all having talks here and there. Did the Prime Minister come to some agreement with the Iranian President when he met him yesterday? What is physically being done to get Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other dual nationals out of jail?
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her long-standing interest in this area. I remember visiting Tehran under the former reformist regime of President Khatami when I was a Foreign Office lawyer before coming into this House, and working on behalf of the UK Government for a bilateral investment treaty. I am afraid that we have taken a significant series of steps back since those days, but it does show that there is a path for Iran to come in from the cold, to get international respectability and to prosper as a result of it.
In relation to the dual national cases and that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, we need to be very careful. We are absolutely clear that Iran must release our dual nationals who have been detained on a whim unconditionally, and that there is no deal to be done—no linkage. As much as I would love to see all of the detainees reunited with their families, there would be acute moral hazard if we allowed ourselves to be blackmailed. All that we would find is that, shortly after the return of those detainees, a whole number more would be picked up; Iran would take the wrong lesson from our actions. We need to be very careful, and we will campaign unflinchingly and unwaveringly with our allies to secure the release of the detainees, but we must also be mindful of not creating the moral hazard to which I have referred.
The United Kingdom is involved in this, whether we like it or not, and we have already seen the effects on the price of oil resulting from the attacks on the Aramco field. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in any contingency planning, the Foreign Office is considering the wider effects on the region? The United Kingdom has huge investments—people and companies—right across the Gulf. I hope that is being considered if anything gets worse there.
My right hon. Friend served with distinction in the Foreign Office, and I am mindful of his experience in this area. He is absolutely right that we need to bear in mind the wider implications of a military conflagration. That is not our strategic objective. We want to de-escalate and dial down the tensions, and to see Iran moving to re-establish confidence that it can be a lawful and respectable member of the international community, and that is what we are working towards.
Last year, in an urgent question about Nazanin, the Minister for the Middle East at the time said to me that
“we do not share the view that the IMS debt or any other bilateral issue is the reason for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention.”—[Official Report, 22 May 2018; Vol. 641, c. 729.]
This sentiment was echoed to me in a private meeting with the Prime Minister and Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe. But this week in The Guardian, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said that successive British Foreign Secretaries have come to him and raised the issue of the £400 million debt in exchange for Nazanin’s freedom, so will the Secretary of State confirm categorically that the Iranian Foreign Minister is lying and that the UK Government would never negotiate with my constituent’s life?
I read that article in The Guardian, which referred to me as well in terms of the recent conversation that I had with the Foreign Minister. I can tell the hon. Lady unequivocally that no such deal was on offer and no such deal will be made. We expect Iran to live up to its responsibilities under international human rights law and under the Vienna convention on consular relations, and to release Nazanin, and the other dual national cases, without delay. They are being held unlawfully, and there is no bargaining with Iran—it must live up to its international commitments and do so without delay.
Given that President Trump has in recent months, on five occasions, sought to meet the Iranian leadership and has been repeatedly rebuffed on the basis that the Iranians cannot trust the Americans to adhere to agreements that they have reached, was the American decision to withdraw from the JCPOA premature?
My hon. Friend knows that it is the position of this Government and the previous Government that we stand by the JCPOA, not because it is the perfect deal but because it is the best credible alternative. At the same time, it is absolutely right—this is accepted by President Macron as well as President Trump—that we should work for a better and more sustainable deal not only on the nuclear issue but on the wider destabilising activities that Iran is engaged in and that the Aramco attacks highlight the significance of.
A number of my colleagues and I were able to visit Saudi Arabia this week and see the Abqaiq facility, and to be in absolutely no doubt that the very precise damage that was done to it was conducted by the Iranians. We will shortly update the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on that visit. Can the Secretary of State now assure us from the Dispatch Box that there is no question that the bad behaviour of the Iranians will be rewarded and that we should be looking to be in step with the United States at this vital time?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s close interest in this. I think there is no doubt—or very little doubt; we are close to certainty—that Iran was responsible. It is implausible and lacking in credibility for it to be suggested that the attacks came from the Houthi rebels. We certainly will co-ordinate with the United States as our closest military and security ally, but, as I have said, we actually need to send the broadest international response and signal to Iran if we are going to have the greatest degree of impact on its behaviour in the future, because Iran is relying on splitting and splintering the west, and indeed the other countries that it will fall back on and try to engage in partnership and alliance with as its isolation increases. We want to de-escalate, and the best way of achieving that effectively is to have the broadest international support with that goal in mind.
My right hon. Friend recognises the importance of ensuring that Iran never gains access to nuclear weapons. However, over recent months Iran has deliberately breached the terms of the JCPOA nuclear deal, including enriching uranium, taking it closer to being able to produce those nuclear weapons. Does he agree and share my concerns that Iran will continue down this path unless it encounters a strong and united front from the west?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we need to avoid the suggestion that it is one or other western country taking the initiative and join forces, co-ordinate and send the most effective message back to Iran that if it continues down this road of non-compliance with the JCPOA, there will be significant consequences for the regime.
Clearly there should be consequences short of military action for Iran for these violations; we cannot stand idly by while it disregards international law. But with a view to de-escalation and bringing to an end what is essentially a cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it would be enormously helpful if the US returned to being a signatory to the JCPOA, particularly if we want a revised framework. What specific consequences does the Foreign Secretary envisage for Iran? What is he doing personally to persuade the US to return to being a signatory to the JCPOA, and does he acknowledge that the Saudis themselves must also comply with international law, not least in Yemen?
The hon. Gentleman makes a number of good points. I agree with him in relation to Saudi Arabia. We monitor very carefully the situation in relation to international humanitarian law, and we raise those issues with the Saudi Government. We remain committed to the JCPOA, but I do not quite follow his logic, in the sense that we recognise the limits of the JCPOA at the same time. The approach is and should be, as set out by not only President Trump but President Macron, to go for a more ambitious deal which is more effective in relation to not only the nuclear concerns we have but all the other issues that, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises, concern the international community, whether it is dual nationals, freedom of navigation or its recent behaviour in terms of the Aramco attacks.
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s continued championing of the cause of media freedom, on which Iran’s record is one of the worst in the world. In particular, will he continue to press Iran to cease the persecution of families of members of the BBC Persian service, who have faced arbitrary arrest, asset freezes, passport confiscation and surveillance?
I thank my right hon. Friend. This week at the UN General Assembly, the UK will be hosting an event on media freedom and a separate event in relation to Iran’s human rights record, so I can give reassurance that in both those key areas we are championing, not only on a bilateral basis but on a multilateral basis, all those issues that he is concerned about.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of ensuring that Iran never gains access to nuclear weapons. Can he give us his assessment of how long it is likely to take before Iran achieves that capability?
I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiments and objectives. It is quite difficult to say; it depends on what decisions are made and what the response of the international community is. We are at a very precarious point. The JCPOA is hanging by a thread. We want to continue it, but we also want to ensure in the terms I have described that we work with all our international partners to try to raise our game and have a more ambitious deal on both the nuclear side of things and the wider destabilising activity that Iran is doing to threaten the region.
Do the Government accept that when we are dealing with two adversarial powers, both influential and both in the grip of religious fanaticism, the best policy we can adopt is one of the traditional balance of power, making sure that neither becomes too strong, but not fooling ourselves that the enemy of my enemy is necessarily my friend?
I thank my right hon. Friend; I think Tito or Acheson put it rather less elegantly than he has. I agree with him about being clear-eyed about the countries in the region. Equally, we need to have some moral clarity about the aggressive nature of what Iran is doing. The way I view it is that this is less about the balance of power and more about ensuring that all countries in the region live up to the basic international obligations and responsibilities of the international community and international law.
Iran’s actions are making war more likely in the middle east, with bases in Syria, arms for Hezbollah in Lebanon and arms for Hamas in Gaza. What is the Secretary of State doing to address those issues, which threaten the peace of the whole region?
There are a whole range of sanctions on Iran under the UK implementing legislation for the EU regime. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refer to all the proxies by which Iran tries to exert its influence in an aggressive and belligerent way. The most important thing, as well as looking at sanctions, is working with the widest range of international support, including all permanent members of the UN Security Council, to live up to their responsibilities to put an end to this aggressive behaviour.
Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that tens of thousands of British citizens working in Saudi Arabia are now living with greater fear and risk to their lives as a result of Iranian-backed attacks and thuggish behaviour against Saudi Arabia? What can he tell the House to show that he is determined that Iran’s irresponsible behaviour must come to an end?
We have UK nationals working in countries all over the region, and they will be concerned about the attacks on the two Aramco facilities. The most important thing we can do is signal that we take this seriously and will provide the most robust and effective response, which requires as broad an international consensus as possible. At the same time, we will work to de-escalate tensions rather than ramp them up.
The Foreign Secretary has made a balanced, measured statement. I welcome his reference to the JCPOA and the need to co-operate with our French and German European partners. He also referred to Yemen. Will he update the House on what is happening in Yemen regarding the efforts of Martin Griffiths? What is being done to stop the continued Houthi attacks on civilian areas in Saudi Arabia and the rocketing of cities and Riyadh airport?
I know the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in these issues. The Iranian support for the Houthi rebels is one illustration of Iran’s use of proxies in the region, which is unacceptable and must end. We fully support the peace process led by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, and we want all parties to engage constructively with that process. Ultimately a political settlement rather than a military one is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen, and that needs to be made clear to Saudi Arabia, Iran and all the other players in the region. We will be hosting a political event at the UN General Assembly to co-ordinate the international effort in that regard and to endorse UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths’s plan to begin wider political discussions.
Will my right hon. Friend assure me that if, as a result of further Iranian acts of war, the US is forced into taking military action, the Government’s position will be not just full support but assistance?
We are focused on two things. We are sending a clear message to Iran that its behaviour is unacceptable and that we hold it to account for the attacks on Aramco. As I have said to the House, we will entertain the request from the Saudi Government in relation to air defences as we would from any close ally. Equally, we want to de-escalate the tensions and avoid a military conflagration. Ultimately the best way of achieving that is having the widest international support for the widest measures short of military intervention. That is why yesterday’s statement by the E3 was so significant.
I agree with much of what the Foreign Secretary has said about the appalling role of the Iranians, not just in their own country but across the middle east region. Do not the actions of President Trump and their failure to ensure that the west has influence show that his kind of Twitter diplomacy, far from getting things done, weakens those forces in Iran who want to work with the west and strengthens those forces who want to say the west is the enemy?
The hon. Gentleman makes some interesting points, and I accept some of his concerns. The international efforts post the G7 summit with President Trump and President Macron, at which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is at the forefront, to make sure that rather than an EU or US effort we have a broad, international effort, are the way to focus the minds of the hardliners in Tehran.
What can the Foreign Secretary share with the House about any changes in the laydown of Iranian forces or their proxies in countries such as Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, which will give us a pointer as to whether Iran is preparing for a wider conflict?
It is difficult to assess. Ultimately we have to judge Iran by its behaviour, and its latest behaviour has been unacceptable and is deeply worrying. That is why the crucial thing, while creating the space for de-escalation and political dialogue, is to be clear that Iran cannot continue as it has, especially with the kind of attacks that we saw on the Aramco facilities.
The Foreign Secretary has already said that the JCPOA is hanging by a thread. The agreement itself lays out what sanctions are available to either party if they are not in full compliance with the JCPOA, so what is his next step in trying to bring Iran into alignment?
All the parties to the JCPOA need to be clear that Iran must come back to full compliance. At the same time, while availing ourselves of all the levers we have within that deal, we also need to raise our level of ambition. That is why the suggestion that we look at improving the deal, working with the French, the US and the widest international support, is the right way to go.
Iran’s destabilising activity is fairly broad geographically. As my right hon. Friend knows, I have a distant, declared interest in Libya, where there is a battle going on between General Haftar and the Government of National Accord. There are some dubious forces behind General Haftar, including, I understand recently, 100 mercenaries from Russia. Is there any indication that Iran’s fiddling in the affairs of other countries has got as far as Libya?
There is widespread concern that Iran will take every opportunity, through its proxies and through local militias and other groups, to exert its influence and have a destabilising effect in order to pursue its own narrow national interest in a way that is deeply damaging for the international order and for regional stability. In relation to Libya, I would want to look very carefully at that, but I think there is a much broader, general threat that Iran is systematically posing.
Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw unilaterally from the JCPOA last year and the additional sanctions have placed huge pressure on Iran, and there is much hardship in that country. The attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil refinery is totally unacceptable, but does the Foreign Secretary not accept that the cavalier approach of the US President is a contributing factor and that Donald Trump must work with the west to de-escalate this crisis?
The US President is working with the west. We saw that at the G7 in Biarritz, and we have seen it at the UN General Assembly. Both the French and American Presidents want a better deal than we have at the moment. We will continue to commit to the JCPOA, but we cannot kid ourselves that it is a perfect deal. It has its limitations and we should try to do better.
Does the Secretary of State share my frustration that despite categoric assurances and promises from the Iranian Government, the Grace 1 tanker that was seized in Gibraltar was heading to Syria? Does he agree that this is just another example of why the Iranian Government are losing respect right around the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have explained this to the Iranian Government at every level. The reality is that if clear and unequivocal assurances are given and then broken, that only goes to decrease trust and to reduce and erode confidence in Iran and its ability to live up to its responsibilities. That can only taint its reputation and delay the point at which it can come in from the international cold.
I landed in London this morning after a two-day trip to Abqaiq oil facilities that was paid for by the Government of Saudi Arabia. I have not yet had the opportunity to declare that in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, but I will do so in the coming days.
A shocking attack on the oil facility, which was subject to multiple Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle and cruise missile attacks, is a breach of all international laws. Earlier derivatives of those missiles are being provided to the Islamist terror group in Yemen. As of yesterday, some 256 ballistic missiles and some 66,000 airborne missiles have been fired into the nation of Saudi Arabia. More than 100—
Order. I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know he speaks on the basis of a recent visit, but if he could advance towards a question with a question mark at the end of it, that would be enormously appreciated by the whole House.
The Houthis have found 100 Iranian-manufactured sea mines in the Red sea. If they were to hit an oil tanker carrying 2 million barrels of oil, it would be the worst environmental crisis ever. When are this Government going to step up to the plate and deal with the Islamist terrorists in Yemen?
We are actively and energetically engaged in that. This week, we are hosting an event in the UN General Assembly with the UN special envoy and we are talking to all sides. It is an intractable, terrible conflict and the hon. Gentleman is right that the Iranian role is pernicious. It is one example of the destabilising activities that we must deal with in concert with our international partners.
The Foreign Secretary was correct to highlight in his statement the appalling attacks on Aramco and Iran’s meddling in Yemen. Will he also acknowledge that in the past few years there have been growing allegations of Iranian interference in Bahrain, Iraq and Syria and of course, of funding Hezbollah in Lebanon? Will he focus equally on those allegations and the effects on regional partners?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to consider all the destabilising activities that Iran conducts through its proxies in the region, and that looking at one or other issue without examining the position in the round misses the big picture.
My constituents, the wife and children of Mr Ashoori, who is being held in prison in Iran, recently met me. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the Prime Minister raised the case of my constituent Mr Ashoori when he met President Rouhani this weekend? What progress has been made?
The hon. Lady raises a terrible case, as all those cases are, not just for the individuals involved but for their families and loved ones. We raise all the dual nationality cases that we have at every level. I am confident that the Prime Minister raised those cases with President Rouhani, and I can assure the hon. Lady that I raised them all directly with Foreign Minister Zarif.
My right hon. Friend rightly referred to the vital work of the International Maritime Security Construct, in which the UK plays an important part. Indeed, the Royal Navy vessel on duty this summer experienced more than 100 confrontations from the Iranian revolutionary guards, according to newspaper reports. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on efforts that are being undertaken at the UN General Assembly or through bilateral relationships with other nations to broaden the construct to ensure that as many nations as possible are involved in order to maintain freedom of navigation in the strait of Hormuz?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want the broadest possible support for policing freedom of navigation in the strait of Hormuz and the wider region. The IMSC has broadened its support, but we also want the European-led initiatives to come on board. Ideally, we would like to join them together. It should not be a question of whether it is a US or an EU flag on the initiatives or the operations; we want to broaden them and bring them together because that is the most effective way to police freedom of navigation.
I have little time for either the Government of Iran or the Government of Saudi Arabia and I wonder whether it is always necessary to choose sides. I therefore welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on de-escalation. I echo the concerns of my hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) and for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) that the American Government’s antics seem to give Iran an excuse to walk away from agreements, which they would not have if the Trump regime were not behaving in such a way.
As I have already said, we remain committed to the JCPOA, but as others have concluded, it is not perfect. It has its limitations, which is why we want a more ambitious and all-encompassing deal that is more effective on the nuclear side of things and also tackles a whole range of destabilising initiatives that Iran engages in, which hon. Members of all parties have raised today.
De-escalation is all very well, but it is not working and the regime shows all the symptoms of bullying. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that this is a case of si vis pacem, para bellum—if you want peace, prepare for war?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns and his pugnacious, spirited response. I think that right now we need a very carefully calibrated message for Iran that we will support the defensive posture that the Saudis have taken. We want to avoid any further attacks like that we saw in the Aramco facilities, for them and for world oil supplies. We also want to create the space for de-escalation and for a route that means Iran can come in from the cold, but that must be driven by Iran living up to its international responsibilities.
Two years ago, the Government concluded that Iran was responsible for a cyber-attack on this very House. What assessment has the Foreign Office made of the current threat of cyber-attacks from the Government of Iran?
Iran is clearly trying to exploit all the potential avenues for exerting its influence and power in the region, not just militarily, as we saw with Aramco, but with cyber. We are making sure that we have the best set of technological equipment and resources to ensure we can defend ourselves. Again, we will need to work with our international partners on that.
If the Iranians are implicated in the Saudi Aramco attack, there are also serious implications not only for Saudi Arabia but for other UK allies in the Gulf. I gather that two of the cruise missiles fell short of their target and are in sufficiently intact condition to be analysed for their targeting systems to determine their launch targets. Can the Foreign Secretary update us on the progress made on getting evidence that Iran really was behind the attack?
As hon. Friend will know, we are very careful about talking about sensitive intelligence. I can tell him that contrary to the Houthi claims that 10 drones were used, imagery of the damage caused clearly shows that there were not just 10 but between 16 and 19 strikes on the Abqaiq facility. Imagery from the site also shows the remnants of Iranian-made land attack cruise missiles and, frankly, attacks of this scale and sophistication could not have been done by the Houthis.
Although I welcome the Government’s commitment to the International Maritime Security Construct, the British capacity to contribute to it has been impaired by the Government cutting the Royal Navy surface fleet by a third. What are the Government going to do to enhance British capacity to contribute to the protection of freedom of navigation in the Persian gulf, including British merchant shipping?
We have assets in the region. We are contributing to the IMSC and we—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says not enough, but what we actually need to do is get the broadest international support for that and a bit more support from our European partners. We need to bring the Europeans and the Americans together—Australia is already involved, as are other partners—and to have a burden-sharing arrangement that means we can police the strait of Hormuz and the other freedom of navigation areas in the region as effectively as possible.
As the Prime Minister’s special envoy and ambassador for freedom of religion and belief, I recently met representatives of the Baha’i community and the Christian community, who raise real concerns about individuals being persecuted for their faith in Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that in every discussion we have with our Iranian counterparts religious freedom is made a key priority for us so that individuals can practice their faith freely?
I thank my hon. Friend, and welcome him to his role as the PM’s special envoy in this area. I know he will do an amazing job, with all his dynamism and knowledge in the area. He is absolutely right that we should be raising the issue of human rights, not just for dual nationals, but for the persecuted minorities and people of faith in Iran itself.
Given that the Stena Impero’s headquarters are found in my constituency, it would be remiss of me not to say that I do not dispute the Secretary of State’s assertion that Iran is culpable in terms of these attacks. I welcome the work that his Government have done to construct a bridge between the United States and Europe. Nevertheless, given that the United States is fixated on regime change in Iran, will the Secretary of State give an unequivocal commitment to détente with Iran and the re-establishment of the 2015 nuclear framework?
The hon. Gentleman puts it in his own way, but I would say that we need clear consequences for the violations of international law that Iran engages in. We need to bring the broadest international support to make those measures effective, but we also need to de-escalate and create the space, route and road map for Iran to come in out of the international cold.
It is four years since the JCPOA was implemented. Many of us were much against it at that time, but since then Iran has become more belligerent, not only engaging in attacks against our nationals, but harassing our police and transport and in cyber-attacks, even against this Parliament itself. Does the Foreign Secretary really believe that this is a country that wants to engage with the international community?
My hon. Friend makes the point very powerfully. Iran is giving the international community —certainly the United Kingdom in relation to the Grace 1 episode—the clear message that it does not live up to its word. If Iran wants a path to international respectability and the prosperity that comes with it, it will have to reverse those actions and live up to its responsibilities. Then it might be possible.