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Iran: Nuclear Programme

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they support the proposal that security guarantees should be offered to Iran by the European Union 3 (Germany, France and the United Kingdom) and the United States, in return for Iranian suspension of work on producing highly enriched uranium.

My Lords, Javier Solana presented proposals to Iran in June on behalf of the EU3, China, Russia and the United States. Those proposals offer the basis for a long-term agreement. They would give Iran everything it needs to develop a modern civil nuclear power programme and political/economic benefits, while meeting international concerns. We would support a new conference on regional security and discuss in negotiation any ideas that Iran wishes to propose. Regrettably, Iran has not yet taken the steps necessary for negotiations to begin, including a full suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, as required by the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply. May I ask two further questions? First, will he make it absolutely clear that it is not the purpose of those who are negotiating with Iran to seek regime change in the way indicated yesterday by Mr John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations? Secondly, within the welcome thought of a regional conference, might it be possible to consider alongside the suspension of enrichment activities—I strongly agree with the Minister on that—security arrangements that would allow Iran to recognise that no one is about to attack her?

My Lords, the proposals made by Javier Solana on behalf of the EU3 plus three, which includes the United States, were very clear and certainly did not involve any notion of regime change; that was never part of the proposals or any of the discussions that followed them. Discussions on any security issues—I should make it clear that Iran itself has never asked for a regional security package of this kind—would have to be held on their merits. I do not think that it is a matter of getting into negotiations by threatening one another, but, equally, Iran must stop the enrichment process. It must abide by United Nations and IAEA decisions. That is absolutely paramount.

My Lords, might this not be perceived as rewarding Iran for its contempt of the international community? Is there not some danger of creating an unfortunate precedent?

My Lords, I suppose that there is always a risk that, if people are particularly truculent and the international community is drawn into ever more detailed negotiations, that could be seen as a reward. I must confess that I look at the matter through the other end of the telescope. Unless we can make diplomatic systems work with a country like Iran, the dangers are very much greater.

My Lords, are the Government fully briefed on the wilder voices in Washington that are still talking about forcingregime change in Iran or, even, about using military force against Iran? Given that Iran has to be partof the equation in dealing with the problems in neighbouring states—Iraq to one side and Afghanistan to the other—and that we know that some American officials are having to talk to Iran about the management of developments in Iraq, are the Government making it clear to the Americans that we have to deal with Iraq’s neighbours on a constructive basis in order to bring some resolution to the current conflict in Iraq?

My Lords, I had hoped that from my initial Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, it would have been clear that we have urged an open and diplomatic process in which Iran could bring matters to the table, provided that it stops the processes of nuclear proliferation that may well follow from its enrichment programme. It has to do that. We are very open in what we think. If other countries take a different view, it is for them to answer those questions. Everybody understands exactly what we have intended, and Javier Solana put that in terms.

My Lords, does the Minister feelthat the EU3 intervention exercise from its commencement has been, on balance, a considerable success, notwithstanding the continuing existence of a number of large problems? Apart from the latest outburst by John Bolton at the UN, would the Minister not agree that one consequence has been that the United States has confirmed that it would not consider any military intervention in Iran? Does that not lead us all to the obvious conclusion that the sooner there is a regional solution to these problems, which would include Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Iran and Syria, the better? That would require Israel’s co-operation as well.

My Lords, I am sure that the interplay of issues throughout the Middle East requires the involvement of a number of parties. That process of negotiation would be unlocked and would move forward more rapidly were the negotiations on the road map in the Middle East to be pursued vigorously and as rapidly as possible. Having said that, with regard to the particular problems of engaging with Iran, Iran needs to engage with everybody else. Iran must also realise that we cannot accept breaches of the UN Security Council resolutions or threats if we continue to pursue what the Security Council has agreed.

My Lords, why should a man sitting on an omnibus in Tehran support a compromise by the Iranian Government when he knows that Israel is not prepared to cede on nuclear weapons?

My Lords, different issues are involved here, and it would take a rather long answer—longer than is permitted at the Dispatch Box—to explore all of those differences. We wish to see a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, and we would prefer to see the Israelis controlled in that respect by the non-proliferation treaty as well—we have made that clear on any number of occasions. The problem in Iran is straightforward: it has started a process which the IAEA has concluded is dangerous and that the Security Council has concluded must stop. It is a simple proposition: Security Council resolutions on this matter must be obeyed.

My Lords, the Minister is putting the matter clearly. He is right to say that the proposals from the EU3 and America are also clear. But is not the reality that, even while we are talking here and certainly while the proposals are being put forward, the Iranians are continuing to fire up a large new cascade of centrifuges and that they are simply continuing with the purpose that they have in mind, which is to develop civil and possibly weapons-grade nuclear power? Does not all this conversation reinforce the validity and worthwhileness of the proposition that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, put forward in the first Question today—namely, that this inspection route and the attempt through the IAEA to curtail Iranian activities when they are determined to push ahead is probably not going to work and that a far better way would be through the nuclear fuel bank idea, which we should develop as rapidly as possible?

My Lords, I do not know that I can add much to what I said about our support for that development when I answered the first Question. However, UN Security Council Resolution 1696 makes provision for other options to be considered as forms of pressure on the Iranian regime. Under Article 41 of the UN Charter it is possible in those circumstances to discuss sanctions. If the Iranians cannot bring themselves to accept the United Nations’ decisions on the matter, that is inevitably the next step.

My Lords, we accept that there is considerable sensitivity in this issue, but will my noble friend remind us that there is an unstable regime in Iran, which is part of the trouble? Should we not also remember that there is no political or moral equivalence between states that do not have rule of law and an open system of government and statesthat do?