Iran General NewsDebate on Iran in the UK House of Commons...

Debate on Iran in the UK House of Commons – Part 2

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Iran Focus: London, Feb. 13 – The following is part two of the text of a debate by British parliamentarians on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons activities that took place in the United Kingdom House of Commons on February 1. Iran Focus

London, Feb. 13 – The following is part two of the text of a debate by British parliamentarians on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons activities that took place in the United Kingdom House of Commons on February 1.

To go to part one of the debate please click here

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander) : I congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) on securing the debate. I have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) urged me to do, listened carefully to the contributions from hon. Members on both Back Benches, which included a number of powerful speeches, and from the Front-Bench spokespeople for the principal Opposition parties who offered considered and measured contributions to this important debate.

In his characteristically mild, supportive and gentle way, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock asked on what basis I, as the Minister for Europe, was appearing before the Chamber this morning. Perhaps I might clarify that the Minister for the Middle East is meeting Ministers from the region who are in London attending the Afghan conference, and the Foreign Secretary is meeting the Iranian Foreign Minister this very morning, so I speak on behalf of my Foreign Office colleagues.

There have been a number of powerful and measured contributions from both sides. However, perhaps not for the first time in recent days, Labour is not as well represented as the Opposition. That was a source of concern until I heard the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock, which made me revise my view on whether more contributions from the Labour Back Benches would be entirely helpful to the Government.

I acknowledge at the outset, as did the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire, that the debate is exceptionally timely. Before I explain the significance of that, I must echo the tributes that have been paid, and the sentiments that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, to the families of the service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq in recent days.

The debate is timely because tomorrow the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors will meet in special session in Vienna. For the board’s 35 members, there will be just one agenda item: Iran’s challenge to the international non-proliferation system and how to respond to it.

I have a certain sympathy with the contribution of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne), who acknowledged that there is a fairly broad consensus among the parties on the nature of the problem facing us. However, with the greatest of respect to hon. Members, I struggled to find clarity in their contributions of the details of the prescription, as distinct from the description, in the face of the problem. I shall try to set out for the record the Government’s position and how we will take matters forward.

Let me explain why the Government, with France and Germany, as part of the E3 process and supported by the European Union, believe that the time has come to involve the UN Security Council, to which a number of hon. Members referred. Two and a half years ago, Iran was forced to admit to the IAEA that it was building secret installations to enrich uranium and to produce plutonium which could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons. Iran was and still is building missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. Subsequent investigations showed that, in the IAEA’s words,

“Iran’s policy of concealment has resulted in many breaches of its obligation”.

A series of IAEA reports identified serious grounds for concern that Iran’s nuclear programme might not be, as Iranian leaders claim, solely for peaceful purposes. Then, and now, our aim has been to persuade Iran by building broad international support—that relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) about Russia and China—and working through multilateral bodies in order to take steps to guarantee that its nuclear programme will not be used for military ends. Under the IAEA’s statute, Iran should have been reported to the Security Council two years ago. The UK, with France and Germany, decided to look for a way forward, through negotiation. The IAEA board agreed to delay involving the Security Council to give that initiative a chance.

At the heart of our initiative was a proposal that Iran should suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities that could be used to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon while we discussed mutually acceptable long-term arrangements. The IAEA board adopted successive resolutions asking Iran to suspend those activities. In November 2004, Iran finally agreed to move ahead on that basis. The Paris agreement set out the framework for talks and offered the prospect of not just a long-term solution to the nuclear issue, but a stronger relationship between Europe and Iran, including co-operation on political and security issues and in economic and scientific fields. We have pursued the process in good faith, but Iran has rejected all constructive attempts to find a solution.

Last August, Iran unilaterally restarted uranium conversion at its plant in Isfahan, in violation of the Paris agreement and contrary to IAEA board resolutions. The same month, without serious consideration, it rejected our detailed proposals for long-term arrangements. Those were the most far-reaching ideas for relations between Iran and Europe that have been presented since the 1979 Iranian revolution and they offered the possibility of an improved relationship based on co-operation.

The IAEA board confirmed the legal basis for involving the Security Council under articles XII.C and III.B.4 of the IAEA’s statute. However, at the request of our partners, we agreed to propose that the board again delay involving the Security Council, to enable more time for diplomacy. In December, European and Iranian officials met to explore whether we could find a basis for resuming talks. We made it clear that it would be essential for Iran not to resume further the suspended activities. With our support, Russia also sought a way forward by proposing that, as part of a final agreement, Iran might have a financial-only stake in an enrichment joint venture based in Russia. Such an agreement would have helped to assure Iran that it could rely on a supply of fuel for its nuclear reactors without acquiring technologies that could be used to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon. The Russians also made it clear that Iran would need to continue suspension of all enrichment-related activities if such ideas were to be discussed further. We were prepared to endorse that idea, as long as no enrichment took place inside Iran. We understand that the Russians presented it in those terms as well.

Since then, the Iranian position has been contradictory and deliberately confusing. At its request, European political directors agreed to meet one of its negotiators, Javad Vaidi, in Brussels on 30 January—this past Monday—but Vaidi indicated no room for flexibility.

Iran’s resumption of uranium enrichment-related activity three weeks ago was a clear rejection of European and Russian efforts to get back to talks. Its actions have shown no respect for IAEA resolutions or for the commitments that it made to us and to Russia. Iran has portrayed its activities as harmless research, but they involve the development of technologies that would enable it to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon. What Iran claims is a small step is, in fact, fundamental.

Therefore, the backdrop to tomorrow’s IAEA board meeting involves not just Iran’s 18-year history of concealment, to which several hon. Members referred, and its failure to take steps that would give us confidence about its nuclear intentions, but also its policy towards Israel and Iraq, its attitude towards terrorism and its human rights record. I echo some of the sentiments that have been expressed. We have all been appalled by the comments of President Ahmadinejad, his denial of the holocaust and his calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has not received universal support in this debate, described as sickening, horrific hostility to the Israeli people. In Damascus just 10 days ago, President Ahmadinejad met leaders of Islamic Jihad while its bombs were killing and injuring civilians in Israel.

The consequences of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are unthinkable. Central Asia and the middle east—two of the world’s most volatile areas—would be destabilised. Other states might seek to enhance their own capabilities, prompting a regional arms race. The non-proliferation treaty—the very bedrock of international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons—would be badly damaged, as would the goal of creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the middle east, a cause to which we are committed. Iran’s latest actions are a challenge to the multilateral non-proliferation system and a rejection of the diplomatic track. We must respond firmly.
On Monday, Foreign Ministers from the UK, France and Germany, together with their counterparts from the United States, Russia and China, agreed that in Vienna tomorrow we should work with the IAEA board, which should

“report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required from Iran, and . . . report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions”.

I welcome that decision. There is strong emerging consensus that it is time for the Security Council to become involved.

Several hon. Members asked whether it had been appropriate to follow the diplomatic track. The efforts have not been in vain, as we are closer to securing genuine international consensus than we have been at any point in the preceding two years. For some of the reasons that have been outlined, it is vital that we secure such agreement. The Iranian regime fears genuine international consensus. What would be more to its advantage is a position from which it would be able to divide and seek to exploit the international community, thereby guaranteeing the continued potential for developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Ellwood : There is an irony in what happened with Iraq—IAEA representatives made it clear that they did not believe that there was a threat, yet we still ended up going to war—and in today’s situation with Iran, which IAEA representatives have not been allowed to visit and which definitely involves a threat. I am concerned that, as a result of what was learned from Iraq, the Government and the international community may be more wary of dealing with the situation in Iran. They may go too softly and appease the country. Our approach must be more robust.

Mr. Alexander : I listened carefully to that point and would argue respectfully that reporting to the Security Council is a necessary step, given where we are now. In that sense, notwithstanding some of the direct queries made by hon. Members, I would not wish to prejudge the outcome of the report to the Security Council. Further steps can be taken thereafter, but it is important at this stage to support the IAEA’s efforts, and to sustain and uphold the importance of the IAEA board in dealing with the issue. We have reached the point at which it is necessary for a report to go to the Security Council.

The agreement of the six countries to which I referred—and, indeed, many others—will send a powerful signal of the consensus that is emerging in the international community. The debate echoed the fact that international concern about Iranian activities has grown during the past two years of diplomatic discussion, and I fully accept that. The process led by European countries has done much to increase awareness of the problem and to build international consensus that Iran must take steps to build confidence.

Regrettably, Iran’s actions preclude the diplomatic solution wanted by the international community. It is now necessary to involve the Security Council to increase the political pressure on Iran to respect the wishes of the IAEA board.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): I call Mr. Amess.

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): You have taken me by surprise, Mr. Martlew.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) on the splendid debate. I concur with all the speeches, but I take a different opinion on many things that the Minister said. A lot of hon. Members are defence experts and could put the case more eloquently than I can. Unlike some people who purport to be Churchillian figures, I am one of the few Members of the House who have consistently raised the subject. If only we had been listened to much earlier.
The Minister completely ignored the point about the People’s Mojaheddin Organisation of Iran and what was said about the disgraceful thing that will happen shortly. The Minister owes the House the courtesy of addressing that. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and I feel so strongly about how the gentleman who calls himself the President of Iran is conducting himself that a few weeks ago we addressed a crowd of 30,000 people outside the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr. Alexander : I would not wish the House to believe that I intended any discourtesy by that omission, which the hon. Gentleman rightly identified. With the forbearance of hon. Members, I shall write to him about the PMOI.

Mr. Amess : That would be very useful. Many hon. Members and I are in favour of jaw-jaw rather than war-war, but we are angry because there has been too much seduction of the present regime. I listened carefully to the state of union address last night—what a sad figure I am, I stayed up for it—

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order.

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