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House of Lords Hansard
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24 April 2018
Volume 790

Private Notice Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the United States government concerning their continued support for the Iran Nuclear Deal, in light of the meeting between the President of France and the President of the United States to discuss the issue.

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.

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My Lords, the UK’s position on the JCPOA is clear: we regard it as a crucial agreement that makes the world a safer place by neutralising the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. The deal is working. There is no better alternative plan. We are engaging all partners following President Trump’s 12 January speech and working hard at all levels towards a strong agreement for the continued success of the JCPOA. We are clear that the deal is not rewritable.

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I am grateful to the noble Earl for that Answer, but I hope he will excuse me when I say that it does not convey the necessary urgency. If this agreement is renounced by President Trump, it will strike yet another grievous blow to the issue of nuclear arms control. President Trump opposes a renewal of the strategic arms control treaty with Russia, and Russia is already in breach of the intermediate nuclear weapons treaty fashioned by Gorbachev and Reagan in Iceland. The truth is that we are witnessing the fabric of nuclear arms control collapsing before our very eyes. Why are the Government not more vocal on these issues?

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My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said, and he makes a number of important points. I should also add that we are in regular discussion with our partners on this issue. The E3 is working with the US to address President Trump’s concerns by agreeing a joint framework and we are holding regular high-level and expert meetings with French, German and US partners to agree a joint approach for the deal. The Question refers to the visit of President Macron to the United States this week, and later this week Chancellor Merkel will be there as well. All will be putting pressure on President Trump and the United States Administration to get this deal sorted out.

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My Lords, at the heart of this is the 12 May deadline. We have seen the markets this afternoon, certainly the oil markets, reacting as if they know that Trump is going to stick to this deadline. What are we doing as a Government to support our allies? The Minister referred to the visit of President Macron and of Chancellor Merkel. We have just had a meeting of G7 Foreign Ministers. What is our Foreign Secretary doing to ensure that we have a clear common voice to ensure that this agreement, agreed across the board, is maintained and not unilaterally torn up on 12 May?

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My Lords, there is common agreement on the E3+3 group as far as the United States is concerned. We expect developments in the coming days and plan to update Parliament when we know the facts, but this is unlikely to be before President Trump has made an announcement. The noble Lord also mentioned the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting. I have not had a readout of that meeting as yet, but I understand that this was discussed.

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My Lords, in agreeing with the point of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, about urgency, does my noble friend accept that this is a question not just for the western alliance but the whole comity of nations concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons? It boils down to the simple question: do we or do we not want Iran to develop as a nuclear power, with nuclear weapons, and destabilise the Middle East even further? We recognise that it is doing all sorts of undesirable things in the Middle East, but this is the specific question of nuclear proliferation. Can we be sure that our Ministers and those of our allies will continue to press President Trump to revalidate the agreement, rather than open up a new area of danger in the Middle East?

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My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we are making every effort to put pressure on the United States Administration to validate this agreement. My noble friend is also right on the proliferation of nuclear weapons—we cannot afford any proliferation of nuclear weapons. I should also add that, so far, this deal is working. Iran has given up two-thirds of its centrifuges and 95% of its uranium stockpile. Our priority is working with the deal and making it deliver for our shared security interests.

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My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, whatever decision is reached by President Trump on 12 May, the British Government will stand by the JCPOA and will not allow that action by the US—unilaterally taken and in the face of the IAEA inspections showing that Iran is in conformity with the agreement—to carry the day?

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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that we must stay behind this JCPOA. We must also work and put enough pressure on the United States Administration to get their agreement.

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My Lords, while the deal is probably the best we will get and it took a huge amount of work to get it, I counsel the Government not to be starry-eyed about Iran. It is currently involved in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, causing trouble and mischief-making. We should always hold its feet to the fire, and not trust it until we have seen proof that it is to be trusted.

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My Lords, my noble friend is correct in much of what he says. In parallel with our efforts to keep the nuclear deal, the UK is firm in the need to tackle Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region, including its ballistic missile programme, but we are clear that the matter needs to remain separate from the JCPOA.

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My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl is aware that before the JCPOA was signed, we were on a track that could well have ended up in a war in the Middle East because of the Israeli reaction against Iran as it became more aware of what was going on. Can the Minister confirm that we are also talking with people from Mossad and others about this issue because the loss of the JCPOA would be very dangerous and could lead to a war in the Middle East?

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I could not agree more with the noble Lord about the importance of the JCPOA. As he is only too aware, discussions with other security agencies are never detailed at this point, but all Ministers are bringing up this issue in order to try to get some agreement.

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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests both as chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce and as the Government’s trade envoy to Iran. Does the Minister not agree that in answer to the powerful and important point made by my noble friend Lord Robathan, none the less, the way to get Iranian co-operation in other areas of the Middle East is not to start by tearing up an agreement that the Iranians have themselves signed in good faith? When President Trump says that Iran is not in compliance with the agreement, that is incorrect, as the International Atomic Energy Authority has repeatedly certified.

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Yes, my Lords, I agree with my noble friend. However, he will also know that trading with Iran presents a difficult scenario, although there are a number of success stories where trade from the United Kingdom is progressing well.

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My Lords, do the Government consider that the country has scored an own goal by refusing to deal with President Trump in the way that President Macron has? Difficult though it may be, it would have been better had we extended more of a hand of friendship and welcome to President Trump, given the need to influence him regardless of personal feelings.

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My Lords, the noble Baroness mentions our relationship with the United States Administration, with whom we are in continual contact. Our contacts with the US Administration are very important. The noble Baroness has talked about our relationship with President Trump, one of our closest allies. The fact is that we continually engage with the Administration and no doubt that will continue.

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My Lords, a US pull-out and the reimposition of tough sanctions on Iran will lead to those very firms that we have encouraged to trade with Iran, as well as our banks making contact with Iranian banks, to potentially suffer devastating losses of financial support by commercial banks. Last Thursday, when EU foreign Ministers met, at least some of them were contemplating an emergency line of credit of support for EU businesses trading with Iran. Do our Government intend to support that initiative if it is necessary to do so? If not, how do they intend to support our businesses?

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I thank the noble Lord for raising a very important point. As I have said, the business environment in Iran is incredibly difficult and the opportunity for due diligence is equally so. The noble Lord mentioned a number of details which I am not aware of, and therefore I will have to write to him.