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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): In 2003, Iran was forced to admit that for many years it had been operating secret facilities to enrich uranium, in clear contravention of its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Other breaches relating to plutonium have been ascertained. We also know of Iranian contact with the Pakistani nuclear weapons expert A. Q. Khan, who admitted working with clandestine nuclear weapons programmes in Libya and North Korea.
Since 2003, the United Kingdom, French and German Governments, with Javier Solana, the EU high representative, have worked tirelessly to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation by Iran through ensuring that it complies fully with its international obligations. As part of this, Iran agreed towards the end of 2003 to suspend enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.
This morning, I regret to say, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran had broken seals at nuclear facilities, including its uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, with a view to resuming research and development, including the introduction of uranium hexafluoride into the centrifuges. That is enrichment. This is a profound concern. It is a further rejection by Iran of IAEA board requests and a violation of the commitments that Iran made in the Paris agreement in November 2004. In view of all that, I shall be meeting my French and German colleagues and Javier Solana as soon as this can be arranged, to discuss our joint and firm response.
Mr. Amess: The House has listened very carefully to what the Foreign Secretary said, and I, for one, am encouraged by his words. In light of the Iranian regime's breach of two agreements with EU 3 in October 2003 and November 2004, and in light of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said about Tehran resuming nuclear activities at Natanz, surely the time has come to refer Iran's nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. Reference to the Security Council has
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always been on the agenda. The board of governors of the IAEA made a judgment at its September meeting last year that Iran was non-compliant with its safeguards agreement obligations. The issue of whether we formally propose a referral to the Security Council will be the key subject for discussion when I meet my EU colleagues, as I hope I shall do in the next few days.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The issue of Iran's compliance with the IAEA is crucial to the whole region, particularly if we wish in the end to achieve a nuclear-free middle east. What discussions has my right hon. Friend been having with the Russians and the Chinese over these latest developments? If the issue is taken to the UN Security Council, it is crucial that a decision is taken there, and that it is not blocked by the veto of one of the Security Council partners, because that would leave us worse off than we are now.
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have worked very closely with our Russian and Chinese partners. Iran has been on the agenda for every single meeting that I have had with Foreign Minister Li and Foreign Minister Lavrov in the last two years. We are very grateful for the active, if sometimes qualified, support that we have received from both countries, and both countries are on record as saying that they do not believe it is in the interests of international peace and security for Iran to go down the road of developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, when he meets his European counterparts and the Russians, there will be on the agenda an attempt to reopen discussions on all aspects of the Government and the regime in Iran so that there can be a peaceful resolution of the crisis rather than it degenerating into what could be an incredibly dangerous situation in the whole region?
Mr. Straw: I have always said that the matter has to be resolved peacefully. Let me make that clear. We are trying to avoid what many of us worry about, which could be a most serious military build-up by one country. The matter has to be resolved by diplomatic and other means, but entirely peacefully. That is what we are seeking to do. It would be extremely serious if Iran were to continue in the way in which it has done. Question after question would be raised about whether it is intent on developing a nuclear weapons facility. That is because it would seriously destabilise the whole of the region, and in doing so threaten international peace and security as a whole.
Mr. William Cash (Stone)
(Con): Will the Foreign Secretary indicate what discussions he has had with the United States of America on this question, given that, for all the efforts that have been made by the three
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countries that he has mentioned within the EU, unfortunately they have not produced the right results so far? Will he therefore indicate the extent to which, in considering the United Nations Security Council, he has had discussions with the United States Government?
Mr. Straw: There have been intensive and continuous discussions with the United States. It is a subject in every discussion that I have had on the telephone or in person with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Americans are not formally or informally part of the so-called E3 process but they have given it significant support. It is a testament of their good faith that, in advance of the meetings that were held with the Iranian negotiators at the end of May 2004, I was authorised by Secretary Rice to say to the Iranian Government that, if we could reach agreement, the United States would lift its block on the opening of accession negotiations by Iran with the World Trade Organisation and we were then able to offer the Iranians that the United States would lift embargoes on some key aircraft parts. That was simply the start of what would have been a process towards the normalisation of relations between the United States and Iran. It is a matter of great regret to me that neither of those important offers by the United States has produced the change in policy and behaviour that we are all seeking from Iran.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): As well as raising with Iran the question of its nuclear programme, will my right hon. Friend make urgent representations to the Iranian Government on their human rights record, which was grisly and is becoming more vicious month by month? They are executing people for their sexuality and more than 20 young people under the age of 18 are on death row in Iran as we speak. Is it not time that we made urgent representations on this issue as well as on the nuclear programme?
Mr. Straw: The two are in no sense alternatives and we do indeed make strong representations to the Iranians. There is an EU human rights dialogue and much detailed dialogue between ourselves and Iran on the issue.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has outlined the seriousness of the position and how difficult it is for our Government and other EU Governments to bring pressure to bear on Iran. He was careful with the words that he used about China and Russia. Has he any indication of what the red line is for Russians and the Chinese in respect of where they might be prepared to support ourselves and our allies in going to the United Nations?
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that instability in the middle east could be a consequence of all this. Does he agree that the likelihood is that, if Iran pushes the issue so far and it is not brought to the attention of the UN, at least one country in the middle east might decide to take surgical military action, which would be catastrophic?
I have seen the speculation, but I have made it clear that military action is not on our agenda, and I do not believe that in practice it is on anybody else's agenda. This must be resolved by diplomatic and
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other non-military means, and that is what is on our agenda. As for the position of Russia and China, both have made it clear that they do not wish Iran to go down the road of developing nuclear weapons capabilities or allowing at the very best the current level of ambiguity about whether it is or is not doing so. It is for them to say what their red lines are, but they have both signed up to the non-proliferation treaty and its enforcement. They abstained, rather than opposed, the resolution of the board of governors on 24 September that declared Iran non-compliant. The conclusion that, I hope, is drawn from that should be obvious.
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