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Iran: Nuclear Programme

Volume 756: debated on Thursday 30 October 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of progress in preventing the development of nuclear weapons by Iran.

My Lords, the UK, like other E3+3 members, is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Under the E3+3’s interim deal with Iran, the most concerning elements of Iran’s nuclear programme were frozen. The E3+3 is currently negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address fully its concerns about Iran’s programme. Good progress has been made, but reaching a final agreement with Iran remains challenging.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, but does she know that the centrifuges and the nuclear structure of Iran remain intact? Does she agree that sanctions were lifted too early? The threat remains. Will she ensure that the deal ends all the means of delivery and production and ensures appropriate inspection by IAEA? Will she make representations to the French Government over their co-operation with Iran in uranium enrichment through the joint stock company Sofidif?

The noble Baroness goes to the core of the issue. If there is an agreement, on what basis will it be? We are working towards an agreement by 24 November. There will not be a relaxation of the sanctions unless that agreement is in place. We are not proposing to make a blanket withdrawal of all sanctions on 24 November if there is an agreement then. We want a staged process, to see that the enrichment process is reduced and that Iran cannot move forward to being able to have a nuclear weapon. We are in continual discussions on that matter.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have no interest in turning Iran into yet another failed state in the Middle East? Can she tell us whether the outstanding issues, made in a proposal by some experts in the United States, could be bundled together into what could be described as a cluster of issues, and that an extension for the next period should be invited while those issues are hammered out to the satisfaction of both sides?

My noble friend is right to draw attention to the importance of stability in the region and why these negotiations are so crucial. The position of the United Kingdom is that we aim to have an agreement in place by 24 November. If we were to talk about what we might do after that, we would be saying that we have no hope of delivery. We have hope.

My Lords, is it not true that if Israel gave up its nuclear weapons, the Iranians would probably not wish to proceed to develop their own?

My Lords, I find it difficult to get into the mind of one member of any other Government, let alone the minds of all members, and sometimes my own—I mean my own mind, of course. It is a serious question. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaties; Israel is not.

Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government are satisfied that all parties to the interim agreement have implemented it correctly and in a verifiable manner? If her answer is positive—I believe that most observers think that they have—a situation where a final comprehensive agreement eluded the negotiators in November but a continuation of the interim agreement proved possible would be some way short of disastrous.

My Lords, the noble Lord has a deep understanding of the issue. Certainly, we know that that the progress that has been made so far has been positive and, it is true to say, delicate. We do not wish to predict that a failure to achieve a resolution on 24 November would lead to a complete breakdown. We do not think that that would be the case. We are still hopeful of an agreement by then. After all, the negotiations are being led by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and we know that we have confidence in her.

Meanwhile, what steps will my noble friend take to persuade her government colleagues and other leaders in the Middle East to restore the balance by insisting that Israel should now consider seriously reducing its nuclear arsenal and also subscribing to the non-proliferation treaty?

My Lords, although security in the region is a part of this question, any negotiations with Israel would at the moment not be on an effective basis, because clearly we have not yet resolved the matter of Iran’s position.

My Lords, in spite of the difficulties of any nuclear negotiations with Iran, does the Minister agree that we and the United States should nevertheless be ready to discuss with Iran the threat of ISIS that we both face?

My Lords, we have a common interest with Iran and other actors in the region with regard to ISOL. It was important that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met President Rouhani in New York. We must consider carefully how we may adopt common attitudes on ISOL and other issues in the region.

We welcome from this side the meeting that the Prime Minister had with the president. Can the Minister tell us whether we have an ambassador in place in Tehran yet, or whether the British Council is back there yet? The sooner that that happens the better.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord that the sooner it happens, the better. We would like to re-establish the embassy and the visa system there. Clearly, noble Lords will know that the circumstances in which we had to leave the embassy mean that we have to renegotiate literally being able to refurbish the embassy and move back in. We are in active negotiations on that—as he says, the sooner the better for the return.