The Observer: Britain is to further restrict exports to Iran after the government admitted there was a risk that specialist equipment currently approved for sale to the Middle Eastern country could help it develop its nuclear programme.
Nuclear fears prompt government to tighten up list of items British firms can export
Britain is to further restrict exports to Iran after the government admitted there was a risk that specialist equipment currently approved for sale to the Middle Eastern country could help it develop its nuclear programme.
Until this month the government had allowed British companies to export items such as nickel alloy pipes, vacuum pumps, radiation detectors, spectrometers, heat furnaces and specialised gaskets.
The equipment was included on an EU list of “dual-use items which may have potential utility to Iran’s nuclear programmes” but which could be exported on a case-by-case basis.
However, Mark Prisk, the business minister, acknowledged in a parliamentary statement that the risk Iran was using the equipment to develop its nuclear programme was “so great that we need to go further”.
In a notice to British exporters, the Department for Business Innovation & Skills said: “All licences will be refused except in cases where there is manifestly no risk.”
There are growing concerns that the Iranian regime is close to developing a nuclear capability which, combined with its missile technology, would mean the country could pose a threat to southern Europe and many other countries in the Middle East.
Iran is subject to six UN sanctions resolutions, but there is evidence it has been circumventing attempts to restrict its economic activities. Last month Nigerian authorities reportedly seized a shipment of weapons apparently dispatched from Iran, which if true would represent a significant breach of UN sanctions.
MP Mike Gapes, a member of the foreign affairs select committee who follows the situation in Iran closely, said extending the banned exports list was a logical move. Gapes denied that the move represented a belated realisation that Britain should police exports to Iran far more stringently. “It’s a general tightening, it’s not just designed to check Iran’s nuclear programme but its economic activites, too,” Gapes said.
He warned: “The clock is ticking. The danger is this Iranian regime is set on establishing a nuclear weapons capability in the near future. Then what do the Israelis do?”
Iran’s military last week practised a series of war games in anticipation of an Israeli or United States airstrike on its nuclear facilities.
However, the US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, has said that sanctions now appear to be having an effect.”I personally believe they are intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, but also the information we that have is that they’ve been surprised by the impact of the sanctions,” Gates said, adding that the measures had “bitten much harder than they anticipated.”
Gates warned military action could not stop Iran’s nuclear programme and would only make it “deeper and more covert”.