Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-33)|
MP, AND DR
8 FEBRUARY 2006
Q20 Mr Heathcoat-Amory: Nuclear weapon
states tend not to get attacked, Iraq did get attacked. Is it
not one of the perhaps obviously unintended consequences that
it sends a message to rogue regimes that maybe they ought to arm
themselves with nuclear weapons?
Mr Straw: I do not agree with
you, I am afraid. Very few countries in the world have got nuclear
weapons or even have that aspiration. Thankfully, because of the
success of the non-proliferation regime, the P5 are not intent
on attacking either each other or any other country in the world.
You are then down to North Korea which is, shall we say, a challenging
situation but where there is the six power process which I think
could be successful. You have got India and Pakistan which are
nuclear weapon states but they are potential adversaries only
to each other. Then you have got the Middle East, which we have
discussed. I am afraid I do not accept what you are saying. I
believe it is the case that if we want to reduce risk in the world
we have to work very hard to deal with any situation where there
is a risk of proliferation.
Q21 Mr Heathcoat-Amory: We are still
negotiating with Iran even though they seem determined to at least
get the nuclear option. Is this simply to keep this rather fragile
coalition on board, including Russia and China, or do you think
there is still a faint chance that they will seek a retreat perhaps
to allow Russia to take over part of the nuclear fuel cycle?
Mr Straw: I think the odds of
that are less than they were but there is still a chance. Just
to go back to this point about ambiguity: you get these very,
very mixed messages out of them. I think they judge this is the
way to handle their diplomacy but they misjudge this because if
they had handled Russia, China, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, the
Yemen and Egypt rather better they would not have been voting
against Iran in the last Board of Governors. There is a chance.
The Iranians, so far as I know, although they have taken the seals
off the centrifuges, have not started to produce fuel from them.
We received some sedulous offers from the Iranians, that we should
allow them to do research and development on these centrifuges
in return for them undertaking not to go into full-scale production.
One of the reasons why we decided to draw a line was because we
said if you do any kind of work on the centrifuges, on enrichment,
that is at the beginning of the fuel cycle and we were still unclear
what they meant by research and development. The Russian offer
is on the table, and the Iranians are blowing hot and cold about
that, but we happen to believe that it would be a very constructive
basis for a solution to this problem and one which could be a
solution with dignity to the Government of Iran.
Q22 Mr Heathcoat-Amory: Are you moving
to the American position that negotiation simply enables Iran
to play a cat and mouse game with the rest of us and that finally
Iran has to face consequences?
Mr Straw: I do not think that
is the American position. First of all, I do not agree that this
coalition is as fragile as you describe it, and I have set out
why I think it has become stronger and stronger. The Americans
have been actively backing the approach that we have followed.
I discussed the issue of sanctions in an earlier question, with
Q23 Ms Stuart: Could I follow up
on what you said about the coalition not being fragile. Given
the heavy dependency of China in particular on Iranian gas supplies
it was surprising that China took the action that it did. Given
that you suggested that Russia is probably our option in terms
of solving that problem, it is a get out of jail card, do you
not think there is still quite considerable potential for power
play once we get to a proper referral to the Security Council?
Mr Straw: Yes, I do. Of course
I accept that, Ms Stuart. The Iranians thought that they could
use this power play to prevent the matter even being subject to
a resolution with this size of vote. What we have seen is Russia
and China make some very important strategic decisions. Yes, in
the case of China they rely to a significant degree on Iranian
oil and gas and in the case of Russia their direct interests are
different but very close because they are a neighbour and Iran
has potentially very significant influence in the Caucasus to
stir up trouble. I think that Russia and China judged against
those direct and immediate interests it was very important to
make clear to the Iranians that the patience of the international
community was being exhausted and if the Iranians were demanding
of Russia and China that they choose between Iran or the international
community and international solidarity then they would do the
latter and not the former.
Q24 Ms Stuart: They are putting rather
a lot of trust in the Russians in this whole area. Given at the
last meeting of the Shanghai Corporation Organisation in Moscow
in November, Iran, India and Pakistan were there were as observer
status, is there not a real danger if we rely heavily on Russia
to resolve that we may have an alternative power problem where
we could be equally held to ransom?
Mr Straw: I do not think so. I
understand the reason for your anxiety. I have to say that I regard
the Russian Federation and my colleague, Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign
Minister, as extremely helpful and co-operative on this. I am
not saying that Russia always comes to the same conclusion as
us, of course they do not, they have a different point of view
and a different perspective, but they have been increasingly co-operative.
Q25 Mr Maples: You have put a huge
amount of effort over the last two or three years into this diplomatic
process and you must wonder sometimes whether it has really got
any chance of coming to anything at all. To get this resolution
of the IAEA you had to downgrade from refer to report, I think.
Iran has rejected the EU initiative that you referred to yesterday
in Question Time and today it has rejected the Russian proposal.
Just suppose we get it to the United Nations Security Council
and they do get some sanctions, the chance of those sanctions
actually stopping Iran if it is determined on getting to what
I think is called the point of no return where they are on the
path to nuclear weapons and there is no possibility of a military
option at all, I just wonder why in these circumstances, and I
do not think we should threaten military action as part of this,
you consistently rule it out and say it is not appropriate, it
is not on anybody's agenda because that impliesthis is
the trade-off I would like you to discuss a bit in your answerthat
living with the consequences of a nuclear Iran are better than
living with the consequences of military action which stops it
becoming a nuclear power. It seems to me while those are both
extremely unpleasant alternatives, I do not see that it is obvious
that it is easier to live with the consequences of a nuclear Iran.
Mr Straw: First of all, I have
found it frustrating from time to time but I also think it is
very important as well and this is a better way than the alternative.
In fact, I do not actually know what the alternative would be
apart from hand-wringing and saying it is all very difficult but
not doing very much about it. Secondly, we do not know for certain,
as I have said, that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability
and that remains to be seen. If they are, the result of this process
will be that there will be a very much stronger international
consensus about what further measures would be required if that
were to transpire. That is important. The third thing I would
say, and this is another reason why I have spent so much time
on this, Iran is a really important country and, however frustrating
I find their negotiators, Iranians are lovely people, they have
got a very distinguished history and culture
Q26 Mr Maples: What is the trade-off
of living with the consequences? I am not interested in Iranian
Mr Straw: I am explaining why
I am living with the frustrations. It is really important that
we do everything we can to try and bring them into the fold. Why
have I said that it is not on anybody's agenda? Because it is
Q27 Mr Maples: Perhaps it ought to
Mr Straw: I do not want to get
down the road of speculating what kind of agenda it could be on
in an abstract world. The Prime MinisterI do not want to
sound sycophantic, which is not my usual approachsaid to
George Young yesterday: "You know what the difficulty is,
George. If you are not careful, you put a word out of place, people
think you are about to go and invade Iran and then people try
and pin you down to saying no matter what happens you are never
going to do anything" and so on. He said it is not on our
agenda; it is not on our agenda. I do not think it is sensible
or productive to speculate on the circumstances in which it could
be on anybody's agenda.
Q28 Mr Maples: I did not ask you
to do that.
Mr Straw: I am absolutely certain
of one thing, that if it had been on the agenda of the E3 then
the possibility of getting an international consensus would have
been for the birds and it would have played completely into the
Q29 Mr Maples: Let me ask you the
question slightly differently. Let us suppose that we do not get
anywhere with this process or with the Security Council and in
two or three years' time it turns out that Iran is past the point
of no return, it does have nuclear weapons or is going to have
them extremely soon in circumstances that we can then do nothing
about. It seems to me that living with the consequences of that
are absolutely horrific, which is presumably why you have devoted
so much time over the last two and a half years to this. They
would then have an impregnable home base, they would spark off
a nuclear arms race in the Gulf, their terrorist activities would
expand enormously, the threat to Israel would be horrendous and
the chance of a nuclear exchange would rise dramatically. I simply
cannot see how we can say, oh well, because your analysis seems
to have led you to this conclusion it is better to live with that
than with the consequences of military action to stop them becoming
a nuclear power.
Mr Straw: I have never said that
I am denying what Article 51 of the Charter says, let us be clear
about that. What I have said is that it is not on the agenda and
I really do not think it is wise to speculate in an abstract way
about the circumstances in which it might be on the agenda. The
Prime Minister too has said it is not on our agenda, and it is
not. I also do not believe that if Iran were in that position
there would be nothing that the international community could
do about it short of what you are implying, Mr Maples, of military
action. If you take the issue of North Korea where the North Koreans,
who for years denied that they were developing a nuclear weapon
system, say they are, there is a process which I am reasonably
hopeful will lead to a resolution of that problem by non-military
means. I appreciate that North Korea is not Iran and Iran is not
North Korea but that is not a bad example to take. This is very
serious, very serious indeed, and it is all the more reason why
we have got to stay engaged on this process until somebody comes
up with a better alternative.
Q30 Mr Maples: I think all of us
would support you in that and hope that the diplomatic process
is successful but we cannot afford to let it be strung out for
another three years or it will be past the point of no return.
Mr Straw: One of the effects of
it being strung out so far is that whatever plans there were in
the Iranian regime I am as certain as I can be that they have
been delayed because by pressure of negotiation we got conversion
for a period, we got the suspension of conversion for a period
and in practice we still have suspension of enrichment and have
done for many months, although that is now at risk.
Q31 Chairman: Foreign Secretary,
you have been with us an hour, I wonder if I can ask one final
question. The Chinese are buying $70 billion worth of oil and
gas from Iran. Iranian income has gone up massively with oil and
gas prices being where they are. Even if we did get to a position
of sanctions, do you really believe that those sanctions would
be effective in any way? Secondly, in a way would they not be
reinforcing the hold of this regime over Iranian public opinion?
Mr Straw: If they were ill-judged
and ill-thought through, yes, and that is one of the reasons why
I do not want to speculate particularly on what Article 41 measures
might be available to the Security Council. We are not there yet,
we do not know whether we have got international consensus. To
repeat my point about Syria, there are plenty of examples where
the international community has exercised great authority without
needing to resort to Article 41 sanctions, so let us see on that.
I also just say this: on the credit side in arithmetical terms
of the Ahmadinejad regime they have had this windfall of a doubling
in the oil price, on the other side this is a country with a population
which is very young, it is very demanding, the institutional structure
of Iran is very inefficient indeed and you have these foundations
which dominate the economy and ensure great wealth for those who
are running them.
Q32 Mr Purchase: A bit like here!
Mr Straw: I am sure they do good
charitable work as well but they look after themselves. They have
got a lot of industrial discontent, including a strike by Tehran
bus drivers very recently, notwithstanding the fact that the sanctions
on people going on strike in Iran are a bit tougher than those
for drivers on London Underground, if I may put it that way.
Richard Younger-Ross: Do you want to
look at that? Change it.
Mr Purchase: It is increasingly sounding
Q33 Chairman: Can I thank you for
coming along today. I hope you will be able to update us. Certainly
we will be watching the situation very closely as it develops
over the next few weeks. Thank you very much.
Mr Straw: Thank you for your interest.