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Iran: Future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Volume 785: debated on Monday 16 October 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer given by my right honourable friend Alistair Burt to an Urgent Question in the other place on the future of the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran. The Statement is as follows:

“The Government take note of President Trump’s decision not to recertify the joint comprehensive plan of action and are concerned by the implications. The Government are strongly committed to the deal, and the JCPoA contributes to the United Kingdom’s wider non-proliferation objectives. The International Atomic Energy Agency continues to report Iran’s compliance with its nuclear commitments. We share the concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its destabilising activity in the region”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Urgent Question. Alistair Burt said in the other place that the deal was hard-won and does the specific job it was designed to do. Of course, it was won by many people, with the superb diplomatic guidance of my noble friend Lady Ashton when she was at the EU. The deal is working. The Foreign Secretary told us the best way to influence the US is to stay close to the president, and of course six months ago he said:

“We were told that the … plan of action on Iran, was going to be junked”,


“it is now pretty clear that America supports it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/17; col. 116.]

Will the Minister tell us what the practical implications for the UK’s policy are if the US eventually junks the agreement? Will the Government strongly reject attempts to make the deal subject to new conditions that have nothing to do with Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons? Does the Minister agree that the US rejecting the agreement will strengthen the hand of those in Iran who said, “Don’t trust the US”? It will make relationships incredibly more difficult. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that the United Kingdom will remain strongly committed to this agreement.

I assure the noble Lord, and the whole House, that I stand with him in acknowledging the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in the negotiation of this deal. I repeat the words of my right honourable friend Alistair Burt: yes, it was a hard deal to negotiate, but at the same time we stand by it. The noble Lord asked about the US position. As he will know, the issue of recertification has been passed from the President to Congress. However, I assure the noble Lord that the United Kingdom’s position stays firm; we believe that the deal is the right one. As I said in my original response, we are seeing full compliance from Iran on the deal, and the IAEA is getting full access. As the noble Lord will I am sure have noticed, we stand together with others, including the German and French Governments; our Prime Minister issued a joint statement with the German Chancellor and the President of France on Friday, and those sentiments have been repeated by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. We are working as hard as we can with all partners—in particular, with our European partners—to keep the Iran nuclear deal going.

My Lords, I do not disagree at all with anything that has been said. However, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that every time the President intervenes in foreign affairs, the world becomes a less safe place. I was encouraged by the Minister’s reference to nuclear non-proliferation. Apart from the intrinsic merits of this deal, it has undoubtedly made a substantial contribution to the objective of nuclear non-proliferation. Is it not also the case that the President’s eccentric action, against all the advice of his own advisers, has been deeply damaging to trust and confidence in foreign policy as practised by the Trump Administration?

On the President, that is a matter for the United States. I assure the noble Lord that, first and foremost—I reiterate—we stand by the deal. Over the weekend my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to various counterparts, including Foreign Minister Zarif in Iran, and to senior representatives of the Trump Administration in the US, to reiterate our support for the continuation of the deal. The noble Lord also raised an important point about the implications. This deal is important for our security, and for the security of the wider region and the whole world. We call upon all parties to ensure its continuation.

My Lords, I too welcome this Statement and the fact that the British Government are working closely with our European partners in the deal, notably France and Germany. Does my noble friend not agree that this is a very good illustration of our voice and influence in the world being enhanced when we work in conjunction with our European partners and that this shows the great importance of maintaining, as far as possible, the existing structures of political and foreign policy co-operation after we leave the European Union?

My noble friend raises an important point. We have been consistent in our approach to this deal and to international agreements. The way in which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister acted on Friday and the co-operation that we continue to demonstrate with our European partners adds to the strength of having a unified approach to issues on which we agree. That certainly reflects the situation with this agreement.

My Lords, the Minister’s remarks are welcome. However, speaking frankly, how prudent is it to depart from treaty terms? It is to be hoped that Congress will see sense. President Trump entered into a diatribe towards Iran, during which he announced his instruction that US agencies should investigate. Would it not have been more satisfactory for the President to have asked his agencies first, rather than putting the cart before the horse?

My Lords, now that the President has given Congress responsibility for renewing the sanctions, what efforts are Her Majesty’s Government making to influence opinion in Congress—to the extent that we can—so that it comes forward with a good set of sanctions?

As I said, we will continue to work with all partners, including the US, to ensure the continuation of the deal. We will work to ensure that all parties continue to implement it in full, and that its basic facts and fundamentals are upheld.

My Lords, the agreement represents a considerable triumph for Europe: over 13 years, with Governments of different political persuasions, we managed to get an agreement. However, we forget that China and Russia are part of the agreement that is seemingly tossed away by the leadership of the United States Administration. Can the Minister assure us that we will do everything within our power, not only with our two European allies but with China and Russia, to keep the agreement going? It is important that we are even-handed. There is a perception in that part of the world that another big player in that area has a much softer ride than Iran. It is important that, having done a deal with Iran, we are seen to obey it and fulfil the full spirit of it.

My noble friend is right that the deal that was struck went wider than just the EU partners. There was some very hard grafting, with a lot of work done behind the scenes to ensure wide agreement, and, as my noble friend says, China and Russia were part of the deal. I repeat the reassurance that I gave a few moments ago about the efforts that the United Kingdom Government are making. Not only are we talking with all international partners but, as I said earlier, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke directly to Foreign Minister Zarif in Iran to assure him of the UK’s continued commitment to the deal.