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House of Lords Hansard
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Iran: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
14 January 2020
Volume 801

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement given in another place this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the JCPOA. I addressed the House yesterday on the wider concerns in relation to Iran’s conduct in the region. The strategic aim for the United Kingdom, and our international partners, remains as it has always been: to de-escalate tensions; to hold Iran to account for its nefarious activities; and to keep the diplomatic door open for the regime to negotiate a peaceful way forwards.

Iran’s destabilising activity should serve as a reminder to us all of the danger to the region and to the world if Iran were ever to acquire a nuclear weapon. We cannot let that happen. With that in mind, today, the E3, consisting of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, have jointly taken action to hold Iran accountable for its systematic non-compliance with the JCPOA. As the European parties to the deal, we have written to the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, in his capacity as co-ordinator of the JCPOA. We have formally triggered the dispute resolution mechanism, thereby referring Iran to the joint commission.

Let me set out the pattern of non-compliance by the regime that left us with no credible alternative. Since last May, Iran has, step by step, reduced its compliance with critical elements of the JCPOA, leaving it a shell of an agreement. On 1 July 2019, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded key limits on low-enriched uranium stockpile limits. On 8 July, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded its 3.67% enriched uranium production limit. On 5 November, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had crossed its advanced centrifuge research and development limits. Then, on 7 November, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had also restarted enrichment activities at the Fordow facility, a clear violation of JCPOA restrictions. On 18 November, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded its heavy water limits, and on 5 January of this year, Iran announced that it would no longer adhere to JCPOA limits on centrifuge numbers.

Each of those actions individually were serious. Together, they now raise acute concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran’s breakout time—the time it would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon—is now falling, and that is an international cause of concern. Time and time again, we have expressed our serious concerns to Iran and urged it to come back into compliance. Time and time again, in its statements and, more importantly, through its actions, it has refused, undermining the very integrity of the deal and flouting its international commitments. Iran’s announcement on 5 January made it clear that it was now effectively refusing to comply with any of the outstanding substantive restrictions that the JCPOA had placed on its nuclear programme.

To be clear, on that date the Iranian Government stated that their

‘nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development.’

Therefore, with regret, the E3 was left with no choice but to refer Iran to the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism. The DRM is the procedure set out in the deal to resolve disputes between the parties to the agreement. Alongside our partners, we will use this to press Iran to come back into full compliance with its commitments and honour an agreement that is in all our interests.

The European External Action Service will now co-ordinate and convene the DRM process. As a first step, it will call a meeting of the joint commission, bringing together all parties to the JCPOA within 15 days. This process has been explicitly designed to allow participants flexibility and full control at each and every stage.

Let me be clear to the House. We are triggering the DRM because Iran has undermined the objective and purpose of the JCPOA, but we do so with a view to bringing Iran back into full compliance. We are triggering the DRM to reinforce the diplomatic track, not to abandon it.

For our part, as the United Kingdom, we were disappointed that the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, and we have worked tirelessly with our international partners to preserve the agreement. We have upheld our commitments, lifting economic and financial sanctions on sectors such as banking, oil, shipping and metals. We lifted an asset freeze and travel bans on listed entities and individuals. We have sought to support a legitimate trade relationship with Iran. The United Kingdom, France and Germany remain committed to the deal and we will approach the DRM in good faith, striving to resolve the dispute and bring Iran back into full compliance with its JCPOA obligations.

As I made clear to the House yesterday, Iran has a choice. The regime can take steps to de-escalate tensions and adhere to the basic rules of international law or sink deeper into political and economic isolation. So, too, Iran’s response to the DRM will be a crucial test of its intentions and good will.

We urge Iran to work with us to save the deal. We urge Iran to see this as an opportunity to reassure the world that its nuclear intentions are exclusively peaceful. We urge the Iranian Government to choose an alternative path and engage in diplomacy and negotiation to resolve the full range of its activities that flout international law and destabilise the region. I commend this Statement to the House.”

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which we welcome, as well as the action that has been taken today alongside our European partners.

The joint statement by the E3 at the weekend concluded that the JCPOA plays a key role in ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. It also expressed regret and concern about the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and its reimposition of sanctions on Iran. It argued, quite rightly, that Iran must be obliged to return to full compliance with its side of the agreement.

However, the exchanges in the other place today focused not on the Statement but on the words of the Prime Minister this morning on BBC “Breakfast”, during which he said, “The problem with the JCPOA is basically—this is the crucial thing, this is why there is tension—is from the American perspective, it’s a flawed agreement. It expires, plus it was negotiated by President Obama.” He continued, “From their point of view, it has many, many faults. Well, if we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it, and let’s replace it with the Trump deal.” Therefore, are we calling for the retention and restoration of the JCPOA as stated in the E3 statement or not? Does the Minister believe that it is better to build on the JCPOA or, as Trump has done, to walk away from it?

This afternoon, the Foreign Secretary referred to the discussions in Biarritz last year in which he said that the Prime Minister, the United States and our European partners are fully open to a broader initiative that addresses not just the nuclear concerns but the broader concerns about the destabilising activity that we have seen recently. He argued that we can preserve the deal but be ambitious and, if possible, bring the United States and Tehran into a broader rapprochement, dealing not just with the nuclear issue but with the wider destabilising activities.

Surely if we want to keep the transatlantic alliance together and bring about a broader rapprochement between the US and Iran, we need to build confidence and be clear about our position. I am afraid that today the one thing that we have not seen is clarity about the Government’s position. Can the Minister tell us how such an alternative deal differs from the current JCPOA? Perhaps he can explain why parties to the original agreement would have confidence that any new one would be complied with.

Finally, there is one other aspect to this terrible situation and that is the plight of the nationals and dual nationals from our country and other countries around the world held in detention. The Foreign Secretary said that their plight is at the forefront of the Government’s mind. Can the Minister update us on the efforts and progress that have been made to secure their release? The Foreign Secretary said that Iran cannot continue its appalling behaviour in the treatment of dual nationals without being held to account. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will tell us precisely how we intend to do that.

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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Does he notice the marked difference in tone between that Statement and the joint statement from the E3 to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has referred, which is from the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom? He will doubtless say that he does not see a marked difference.

The E3 statement is clear and unequivocal but statesmanlike. It argues that we

“share fundamental common security interests, along with our European partners. One of them is upholding the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon.”

That is absolutely right. It argues that the JCPOA

“plays a key role in this respect, as our Leaders have just unambiguously reaffirmed.”

It states that the JCPOA is

“a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy”.

It therefore goes on to say:

“Together, we have stated unequivocally our regret and concern at the decision by the United States to withdraw from the JCPoA and to re-impose sanctions on Iran. Since May 2018, we have worked together to preserve the agreement. The E3 have fully upheld our JCPoA commitments, including sanctions-lifting as foreseen under the terms of the agreement.”

It continues by saying:

“In addition to the lifting of all sanctions, required by our commitments under the agreement, we have worked tirelessly to support legitimate trade with Iran.”

The E3 states that, since 2018 and especially recently, we

“have worked hard to address Iran’s concerns”

and

“sought to persuade Iran to change course”

in relation to it not meeting some of its obligations. It states that the E3 is referring Iran to the dispute resolution process

“in good faith with the overarching objective of preserving the JCPoA”.

I have quoted at length so that noble Lords can see the difference between what the Minister has just read out, and the E3 statement. Does he agree that the E3 statement is reasoned and reasonable? He must do so because our Foreign Secretary agreed to it. We claim in the E3 statement that we are referring Iran to the dispute resolution mechanism in good faith because we support the JCPOA. How does that square with what we have just heard is coming from the very top of the Government: that they agree with the US that this is an inadequate deal?

Does the Minister agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who played such a key role in the negotiation of this agreement and described it as a “boulder in the door”? How are we seeking to de-escalate tensions when at the same time, we accuse Iran in the Statement he has just read out of “nefarious” intentions? Does the E3 statement square with what the Minister has said about this being a “shell of an agreement”?

It is two and half pages into this Statement before we hear that the UK is “disappointed” that the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. We rightly seek that Iran comes back into compliance, but where is the request that the US comes back into compliance? We have indeed upheld our commitments, but does the noble Lord not accept that the US’s legal reach means that companies do not want to trade with Iran lest they end up in the US courts, and that, therefore, the bringing of Iran back into the global fold has been severely damaged by US actions? How does the Minister square that with what is being asked of Iran?

Which line do the Government support—the EU-supported JCPOA or Trump’s point of view? Meanwhile, we see convulsions in Iran over the shooting down of the Ukrainian plane and the lies that followed that. Does the Minister agree that the strong reaction in Iran is encouraging and reflects, as ever, the complexity and levels of education and information prevalent in Iranian society?

Might this not be a time to be statesmanlike and request, for example, that the Iranians take this opportunity to release dual nationals on compassionate grounds? It is highly likely that many in the Iranian population are well aware of their plight and would have sympathy with the release, for example, of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, so that she can rejoin her husband and little daughter. As we seek to make such a case, can the noble Lord tell me precisely when the Prime Minister will meet Richard Ratcliffe to take this forward?

The Government are right to urge de-escalation. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that we work internationally and with our EU partners to assist that process, or does he think we should be moving away from this position and towards that of President Trump?

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My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments and the general thrust of support from both Benches.

In picking up on some of the questions and issues raised, I first note that both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned the E3 statement of 12 January. It is right: we are members of the E3 and the mechanism has been invoked in partnership. It is an E3 decision. The noble Baroness felt there were nuanced differences between the Statement I read out and that of the E3. The language is of course agreed with our partners, but the general thrust of both statements is very much inclined towards ensuring a diplomatic solution and that the diplomatic channel with Iran remains firmly open.

It is with deep regret that this mechanism has been invoked. The noble Baroness spoke of the sterling work of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who I know and respect greatly, and yes, she played an instrumental part when the JCPOA came to fruition. However, as the Statement outlined, we have seen in recent months—I outlined specific dates—Iran’s continuing non-compliance. On the issue of squaring off and my speaking of “nefarious activities”, it is obvious that the dispute mechanism would only have been invoked because of non-compliance. It is regrettable, but Iran has taken steps which justify the action that we have taken, not alone but in partnership with the E3.

I turn to another issue that the noble Lord raised concerning the Prime Minister’s Statement this morning, which I have just read out. The Prime Minister has been very clear and the E3 statement of 12 January—from Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and our Prime Minister—was also clear about our position and continued commitment to the JCPOA. We have had various debates in your Lordships’ House in which we have all agreed that even at its outset, the JCPOA was limited in certain respects and did not cover the full range of the challenges faced, ballistic missiles being one notable example. Nevertheless, it remains the only deal in town. It is therefore right that we invoke this mechanism, not to end the deal but, I say to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, to ensure that we can leave that diplomatic channel open. The mechanism was set up for that very reason.

The noble Baroness rightly spoke about de-escalating tensions. I am proud of the role that the United Kingdom has played in what has been a very challenging situation in the region and in Iran specifically, together with our partners, most notably Germany and France. In this respect, I would suggest that we are in a better place today than we were perhaps 24 or 36 hours ago. However, notwithstanding the tensions being de-escalated, when it comes to the JCPOA deal itself, it is of deep regret that the actions of Iran have led to the action we have had to take.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness both rightly raised the issue of dual nationals. I assure all noble Lords that we will continue to take all action on all consular cases in Iran, in line with what we believe will produce the right outcomes. On 6 January, the Foreign Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif in Iran and again raised the very serious concerns that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised today—and rightly continue to raise—about Iran’s practice of detaining foreign and dual nationals. As noble Lords are aware, Iran does not recognise dual nationality. However, notwithstanding that point, we continue to raise these issues consistently. I cannot give the noble Baroness a specific date for any future meeting between the Prime Minister and Richard Ratcliffe, but I assure her that we continue to engage with and support all families that seek support. I last met Richard Ratcliffe in September, during the UN high-level week. We will continue to support the families and to stress upon Iran the need for their immediate release.

The noble Baroness raised the tragic shooting down of the Ukrainian jet. I am sure I speak for all noble Lords across this House when I say that first and foremost, our prayers and thoughts are with those families. In one particular instance, there was a couple who had just got married. We have not just relayed messages to our partners. The Prime Minister has spoken to President Zelensky of Ukraine and I know the Foreign Minister has engaged with all Foreign Ministers in this respect. I myself earlier this week visited Canada House to pay respects to the Canadian victims of this tragedy. It is important that we work together. We have made it clear to the Ukrainians as well as the Iranians that we stand ready to assist with the expertise that we can provide to ensure a full, transparent and complete investigation of this incident. I assure the noble Baroness that we will continue to make representations in this regard.

I hope I have answered the questions and concerns that have been raised. This is a very serious situation. The JCPOA was negotiated through great compromises that were made. It remains, as I said, the only deal on the table, and we will continue to work to retain it.

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My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. I am the unremunerated chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce and, as my noble friend knows, the Government’s trade envoy to Iran.

I associate myself completely with what the Minister said condemning Iran’s destabilising behaviour and its treatment of dual nationals. I particularly condemn the arrest of our ambassador, Robert Macaire, which was a dreadful act. Having said that, is this Statement not rather one-sided, as the noble Baroness pointed out, in saying that Iran has undermined the JCPOA without equally and first stressing that the US withdrew from the JCPOA and then, even though Iran was in compliance, imposed punitive sanctions depriving Iran of any benefit at all from the agreement? Is it not also rather hollow to claim that Europe has kept its side of the agreement because it has lifted sanctions when, as we all know, the effect of American sanctions on Iran has been that the lifting of European sanctions has been completely ineffective? Trade with Europe has completely collapsed, the currency has collapsed, basic foodstuffs in Iran have increased in price by 100% and poverty has risen to some 30% of the population. It is not surprising that Iran feels that it has got nothing out of the agreement.

The Minister rightly listed all the different respects in and occasions on which Iran has openly and deliberately broken the agreement, but is it not the case that on each occasion Iran has said that the step breaching the agreement would be reversible if Europe was able to make the agreement effective and kept its side of the bargain? Is it not therefore understandable that Iran feels that the ball is somewhat in Europe’s court because Europe has not made the agreement effective?

Lastly, is there not a real danger in invoking the resolution mechanism, whose outcome we know is completely predictable, that we are driving Iran towards leaving the non-proliferation agreement, which it still complies with? It would be a great mistake if that happened.

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My Lords, on my noble friend’s final point, as I said regarding the listing of the contraventions on the Iranian side, it is right that we, of course, have not taken this action on our own; as I said, we have done so after careful consideration and in line with our partners in Europe—namely, Germany and France. I said during the Statement that, while agencies still have access to Iran, we cannot continue with the state of non-compliance on the Iranian side.

My noble friend rightly raises the issue of the US pulling out of the JCPOA. We have been consistent: we did not agree with the US’s actions, but that was a matter for the US. Having said that, we also strengthened our work with our European partners to ensure that we keep the JCPOA alive. As noble Lords will know, we have been exploring the INSTEX mechanism to see how we can alleviate the impact and implications of the US sanctions on Iranian society, the Iranian people and key sectors such as pharmaceuticals. We continue to work. The mechanism has not yet originated any particular deals, although there are several in the pipeline.

I also fully accept that there are very challenging circumstances facing the Iranian people. That is why we continue to stress to the Iranians—and yes, we raise it with our American allies as well—the importance of the diplomatic channel to reduce tensions and ensure that in the first instance we get Iran back to the table on the JCPOA, as well as, as the Prime Minister said back in September, looking towards the future and the long term to see how we can strike wider deals in this respect.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that, at the very least, there is a significant difference in emphasis between what the Prime Minister said this morning and the Minister’s very measured and careful words in this House? On such a crucial issue, is it not essential that the Government sing from the same sheet and that we know clearly, with absolute certainty, what the Government’s position is? That must mean that the Prime Minister gives it his full approval.

Surely this whole situation brings home that we have no alternative but to stay very close to our European partners, in this as in other matters. Does the Minister also agree that, on the wider issue of non-proliferation across the world as a whole, it is crucial that we do not get into a situation where we appear to be telling the rest of the world what they must do without ourselves giving full regard to the undertakings that we have given in the non-proliferation treaty, and that those undertakings become more important than ever because we have to win collective, international, shared responsibility to handle the whole future of this in the interests of humanity?

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I agree with the noble Lord. It is important that we stay in lock-step with all our allies, and on this particular issue I think we have shown and demonstrated that. With the rising tensions in the Middle East, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has undertaken a series of shuttle diplomacy and he has been travelling quite regularly to Brussels to speak with European partners. The action that we have taken in invoking this particular mechanism reflects the strength of the relationship within the E3.

The noble Lord raised the Prime Minister’s statement. The Prime Minister is very committed. In the joint statement with President Macron and Chancellor Merkel over the weekend he committed to ensuring that we keep the diplomatic channel open with Iran, and that the mechanism that has been invoked leads to Iran coming back to the table. On ensuring the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, we remain very committed across the world that the JCPOA is the deal on the table when it comes to Iran. Since its inception it has provided the very mechanism and means to ensure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.

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My Lords, first, while I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, would he not agree that it is a little rash to jump to the conclusion that this move to trigger the dispute settlement process will be a positive one which brings positive results? It is far too soon and time alone will show that.

Secondly, would the Minister not agree that the one thing that is least likely to happen is that a way out of the problems we are all in, which are extremely serious, will be found through the dispute settlement procedure? Frankly, that is not credible because it is a confrontational procedure between those who have triggered it and the Iranians, and even more so because a party which has certainly transgressed the JCPOA will not be there. Perhaps the Minister will tell us that the United States will turn up all of a sudden, having walked away from the deal, but I doubt it.

Thirdly, could he tell us whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now giving some serious thought to making best use of any time gained by scaling down the confrontation in this way or any other to addressing some of the serious substantive issues that are at stake? In particular, will it address some of the sunset clauses in the JCPOA, which quite rightly give all of us considerable concern and which will have to be addressed in a timescale that is getting shorter all the time?

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My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we remain very much committed to the JCPOA. He says that the triggering of this mechanism was perhaps premature. I do not agree. I think we took a very considered position, one which is very much aligned with that of our European partners. The triggering of the provisions within the mechanism is done to bring the respective parties to the JCPOA to the table. In this case, after careful consideration, we believe that this is necessary for the very reasons I listed: the various instances of non-compliance from Iran on Iranian enrichment and so on.

The noble Lord talked about de-escalation and using this as an opportunity to address substantive issues in the region. We remain very much committed to that. When asking his question earlier, my noble friend referred to the detention of the British ambassador. This was totally against any diplomatic convention. It was unacceptable and that point has been relayed to Iran in very clear and unequivocal terms. Notwithstanding this action from Iran, we retain our diplomatic mission there and the strength of our diplomatic engagement. I cannot agree with the noble Lord; we hope and believe that the triggering of this mechanism will result in Iran reconsidering its non-compliance and returning to the table. I stress again that while there may be other deals in the future, the current deal is the JCPOA and we must do our utmost to ensure we sustain it.

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My Lords, I am very tempted to say that I agree with everything that has been said in response to the Statement and sit down. However, I want to make one or two points. First, inconsistency at the heart of government on a matter of such enormous significance in foreign policy is simply unacceptable. Somehow, somewhere, there has to be consistency. It may not be for the noble Lord to bring that about, but perhaps he might advise those who have some responsibility for it of the general attitude of those who have responded to the Statement.

Secondly, until the United States unilaterally withdrew, Iran was in full compliance. Thereafter, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, pointed out, the United States embarked upon a severe programme of sanctions. In addition, there was common talk in Washington that the real purpose was regime change. Given that, is it any wonder that Iran should not continue with what might seem to it to be the only way of exercising influence: namely, failing to fulfil its responsibilities under the treaty?

Not only was the question of sanctions enhanced, there was the threat of regime change and, of course, it culminated in assassination. We must ask ourselves this, if I may put it this way: what possible incentive does Iran have to return to compliance so long as the United States has the avowed intentions which it has previously displayed in such a dramatic and effective fashion?

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My Lords, what I can say in response to the noble Lord is that we consistently make the point to the United States, in all our exchanges, about the importance of retention. We have a different view on the JCPOA. Obviously, the United States left the JCPOA, and that was very much its unilateral decision. We do not agree with that. We still believe that there is a role for the JCPOA. It has been shown to work. The triggering of the mechanism will, we hope, also allow a continued commitment to the JCPOA.

The important issue in all this is that we need to see a decrease in tensions. The noble Lord talked of Qasem Soleimani; we debated that in your Lordships’ House. I speak for Her Majesty’s Government, and at all times the role we have sought to play in the first instance is one of de-escalation and in the second of ensuring that we keep all diplomatic channels fully open, whether we are talking about the current tensions or the situation around the JCPOA.

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My Lords, I welcome the decision to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism. The suggestion from some noble Lords that Iran has kept to its side of the JCPOA in full is deeply questionable. One of the major criticisms of the JCPOA at the beginning was that it allowed Iran to continue its destabilisation of the region, so does the Minister agree that the only way forward is a complete redrafting, with provisions to curtail Iran’s international aggression and financing of terror that were omitted from the original agreement?

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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we have triggered this particular mechanism for the reason I reiterated. I do not think that the Statement I repeated from my right honourable friend could be any clearer; it was very clear in the detail. I state again that this was not a UK decision but one that we took in absolute lockstep with our European partners: namely, Germany and France.

We have been deeply concerned by Iran’s continuing destabilising influence in the wider region as well and continue to make that point. My noble friend talked about limitations in the original deal. I have already said during this discussion that there were limitations to that deal. It did not cover certain elements, including ballistic missiles. I have also alluded to the fact—my right honourable friend the Prime Minister also made this point in September—that the JCPOA is the deal that we currently have. There may well be a time in the future when we look at a more all-encompassing deal that ensures that the United States can return to the table as well as Iran. It is the United Kingdom’s view that we will continue to ensure that every element of this deal is sustained and that we do not leave out any avenue that can ensure its retention, but at the same time we will work towards diplomatic solutions to what are rising tensions in the region.

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My Lords, I of course wish that there be de-escalation, which is absolutely critical. The Government might wish to consider all means by which to achieve that. However, building on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in wishing to de-escalate has sufficient attention been paid to the authorities in Tehran and their view on what they would accept in order to fall back to compliance with what we would rightly call the norms?

On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about dual nationals, it will be remembered that a British court has ordered the UK Government to return monies to the Iranians, for reasons that it felt were necessary, for the tank negotiations that fell foul. Can the Minister enlighten the House on what exactly the Government will do to comply with the UK court on this matter? This might help the process and the dual nationals whom everyone is very concerned about.

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On the noble Viscount’s final point, at the moment we are a fair way off discussing those kinds of matters in detail, but he is right to raise the court decision, which remains pending. The fact remains that there is no reason to detain these dual nationals. They have been held, we believe, against every norm of international law and Iran’s repeated failure to recognise dual nationals—British nationals among them—is a major challenge.

The noble Viscount asked whether we have reiterated these points and taken the temperature of the situation with those leaders in Iran. In the last week or so, on 6 January my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif and on 9 January my right honourable friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Rouhani. We have also worked in co-ordination with our European partners, and they have been making their representations. There is a role to play in looking towards a future for Iran that reflects the will of its people, who I am sure want to see Iran’s return. It is a rich country with rich history; the Persian culture has enriched the world. We shall certainly work towards ensuring that, along with those who seek diplomatic solutions and have the right intention for the Iranian people, we see a fully integrated Iran return to the global stage in a manner where it can play its part based on its history and enrich cultures around the world.

However, in ensuring that that happens, the first steps must be about ensuring what happens when you sign an agreement. I accept that there have been pressures from the US withdrawal because of the JCPOA, but that is one member of it and we have retained our commitment to it. Iran’s continued denial, and now non-compliance, has resulted in the action we have taken. But I stress, in everything I have said, the importance of keeping diplomatic channels open and we will continue to stress that.