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Yet the international community is in danger of losing credibility in its dealings with Iran. Security Council resolution 1696 gave Iran 30 days to suspend nuclear enrichment, but 114 days have passed without action. Since Iran was referred to the Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency on 4 February this year, because it was found to be in grave breach of the non-proliferation treaty, nine months have passed with no substantive action by the international community. Together, the members of the Security Council have potent combined leverage over Iran, which is dependent on Russia for technology and expertise to build a civilian nuclear programme, receives massive Chinese investment in its domestic infrastructure, cannot develop its oilfields adequately without investment and modernisation—requiring
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foreign investment—and is not capable of building nuclear power stations without external assistance.

Yet a Security Council resolution that would make use of that leverage has not yet proved attainable. I appreciate that that is as frustrating for Ministers as for everyone else. Again, I hope that the Defence Secretary can give us the Government’s latest assessment of the stage of development that Iran’s nuclear programme has reached. I also hope that the Government can tell the House what Security Council measures Russia and China are prepared to support. If no meaningful UN action is to be taken, what else can be done? It is not an issue from which the world can walk away.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Iranian political situation is internally complicated, that President Ahmadinejad will use international pressure to consolidate his nationalist position and that the United States could change its attitude to engage with Iran to try to split the hard-liners and others in Iran? If that does not happen, the situation may get worse if Russia and China are not prepared to act with sanctions.

Mr. Hague: There is a legitimate debate to be had about that, but many efforts have been made to engage with Iran in recent years, including efforts, which we fully supported, by the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor to engage successfully with it. The process is not easy—not even the United States would find it easy. Sticks as well as carrots are required. A stick-and-carrot approach has worked in some other cases. Libya is not the same as Iran, but it is an example to which we can point.

Dr. Starkey: The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that there is general international agreement about the way forward on North Korea and that that is lacking on Iran. However, I have not heard a positive suggestion from him about something that the UK could do that it has not already done. Perhaps he would like to make such a suggestion.

Mr. Hague: That is precisely what I was about to do—I thank the hon. Lady for the invitation. We are considering not only a vital British national interest, but a vital global interest. If the Security Council cannot overcome its differences, it is time for like-minded countries to explore and implement, if necessary, formal or informal restrictive measures against Iran. They should at least be prepared to do that. Such measures could include EU action against investment in Iran’s oil and gas fields, limitation of the access of Iranian banks to the European financial system or a visa ban on persons connected with the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programme. Other hon. Members may have other ideas.

Such decisions would involve tough choices, but although sticks and carrots are necessary to make progress, only carrots have been tried so far.

Chris Bryant: Again, the debate is focusing on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the list of groups in Iran that
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have suffered extreme human rights abuses, as attested by all the international organisations, is growing. Will the right hon. Gentleman add his voice to those who call for Iran to respect the human rights of all individuals, especially the Ahwazi Arabs?

Mr. Hague: Yes, of course. The hon. Gentleman has made that point earlier in the debate and on many previous occasions. We all agree about the importance of human rights, but I do not want to go into detail because there are many subjects to cover in the rest of my speech.

Daniel Kawczynski: My right hon. Friend mentioned the progress that the Government have made on getting Libya to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. Does he share my concerns about other north African countries, such as Tunisia and Algeria, which are also trying to pursue such weapons?

Mr. Hague: There is a need for more positive engagement with the countries of north Africa. I do not want to speculate about their weapons programmes but European countries have a role in engaging much more closely with them in the years ahead. That should be part of this country’s coherent foreign policy.

We can prepare British or European measures on Iran. I hope that the Government are discussing those matters with their European counterparts and that they can reassure the House that any discussions with Iran about Iraq—of course, the door should be open to such discussions—will not come at the price of concessions over its breach of the non-proliferation treaty.

The behaviour of Iran and North Korea in the past year demonstrates beyond doubt that the non-proliferation treaty is in urgent need of attention and some repair. Up to 40 countries are now considered to have the technical know-how to produce nuclear weapons, and black market proliferators are at work. The risk of a nuclear device or nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists has grown. Thinking is going on around the world about how to strengthen the bargain inherent in a non-proliferation treaty, possibly by the creation, some argue, of international fuel banks to make enriched uranium accessible to all legitimate nation state customers for peaceful purposes.

Is it not now time for this country and others to place a very high priority on that work and to champion some constructive ideas about it? The Foreign Secretary told me in a written answer last month that

Yet that conference failed to agree on a single recommendation of substance. A treaty to end the production of fissile material for weapons purposes has been on the proliferation and disarmament agenda for decades, and in June the Foreign Secretary told me that her officials were “assessing” a draft treaty put forward by the US in May. It is fair to ask whether they have reached any conclusions about that and whether they can tell us more about the proposal for a system of
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international control of the fuel cycle, which the UK apparently put forward earlier this year.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman mentions the non-proliferation treaty. Is he fully aware that the terms of the 1970 treaty also include within it an obligation on the five declared nuclear weapons states to undertake long-term disarmament? In that light, is it right for his party, or indeed anyone else, to support this country’s rearmament with an increased nuclear capability? Should we not be showing the way on the NPT by adhering to it ourselves?

Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman will discover that, since that time, the UK has greatly reduced the number of nuclear warheads that it deploys, so the UK has set a rather good example in that respect. What happens in the future is a matter for debate, but I was glad to hear the Foreign Secretary say earlier that she is committed to maintaining a British nuclear deterrent, since there had been some discussion in the press about those matters. The House should have a proper debate when the time is right.

I shall move on a little more quickly to discussing the situation in the wider middle east, which has become a cauldron of dangers where the prospects for peace have gone backwards rather than forwards in some respects in recent months. The various crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian post-peace process should be approached first of all with frankness—as over-optimistic assessments destroy our credibility and undermine public support—then with realism, acknowledging that there are no quick fixes, and long-term application and planning. Many of these problems will be with us throughout the life of this Government and well into the next. We must make every possible effort to work with cultures that are very different from our own.

It is particularly important not to think of these conflicts as simply different fronts in a single struggle, as the motivation of an Iraqi militia man may be very different from that of a supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon and quite different again from that of an al-Qaeda terrorist hiding on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Terrorism is now the greatest threat to our national security, but it does not come from a single or simple source and our rhetoric should not encourage the idea that we are engaged in a clash of civilisations. It should encourage the idea that we are in the business of making long-term friends among the many peoples and Governments of the middle east and north Africa who have no hostility towards us.

Our strategy should not lump countries and peoples together, but appreciate their differences. Syria may respond differently in future from Iran and perceptions held by Palestinians are often different from those in neighbouring Arab states. Similarly, recognition in the House that terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone—partly, as it has turned out, because it has some of its roots in our own society as well as overseas—means that in fighting it, we must uphold our own highest values. That is why I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary criticise Guantanamo Bay to the Bush Administration, which I did earlier in the year. We agree on that. When we frame our own
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anti-terrorism laws, they must be tough and effective, but also justified in order to uphold our own highest values.

The Prime Minister ranged over some middle east issues in his major speech on foreign policy last week, but we would like to understand more about what it meant in practice. It seemed that its emphasis on dialogue with Iran and Syria was meant to be significant and new, but the policy that he articulated was not. Ministers have always been open to dialogue with Syria and Iran, as indeed they should be. The Foreign Secretary did not discuss what thought has been given to the wider diplomatic machinery that could be established, irrespective of Syrian and Iranian engagement. It may be difficult to secure that, but those countries could join in such machinery in the future. There is surely a good case for creating a contact group of major powers, working closely with constructive nations of the region such as Turkey, Jordan and the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council. Such a group could be developed and strengthened over time.

That may be one of the ideas being considered in Washington by the Baker commission. It is important that there be British engagement with that commission, and the Prime Minister was absolutely right to speak to its members last week. However, the Secretary of State did not say what continuing contact Foreign Office Ministers will have with that commission and whether parallel thinking is taking place here on this side of the Atlantic at the same time. Although we have already debated the case for an inquiry on Iraq—we will return to it on another occasion—I hope that Ministers will be clear that one of the things that everyone will wish to examine in future is the advice given by the British Government to the Bush Administration now and in the coming weeks. I hope that the Defence Secretary will be able to expand on that later today.

International co-operation and external support for Iraq, anchored in a powerful contact group, are almost certainly necessary, given that at some stage an Iraqi Government will have to stand on their own. Whenever that is, their early days could be shaky, to say the least. Equally, however, external diplomacy alone is not going to solve the problems that have now arisen within Iraq and we should not delude ourselves into thinking that it will. Surely those problems can be solved only there.

On the background, I suspect that there is still a lot of common ground between Ministers and Opposition Front Benchers. We, like them, believe that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified. We, like them, believe that many mistakes were made in the aftermath, although they are irritated when we say so even though they say so themselves. We agree with them that the adoption of an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal would be unwise, given that it would obviously set a timetable for insurgent activity itself, but the Foreign Secretary suggested in her speech today a hopeful transfer of more responsibility to Iraqi forces. At the same time, I suspect that we all recognise that a partition of Iraq is unlikely to present a solution, other than an extraordinarily bloody and violent one, and that the military means available are no longer sufficient on their own to guarantee success.

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If all those things are the case, immediate events in the politics and government of Iraq become the vital cog without which the wheels of western military force and international diplomacy cannot usefully turn. British and American efforts are therefore dependent on the ability of the Iraqi Government to achieve some of the things that the Foreign Secretary spoke about—a national reconciliation, about which she was so positive, stemming sectarian violence, disarming militias, finding agreement on the sharing of oil revenues, dealing with the appalling level of corruption and improving the effectiveness of economic reconstruction.

It may be necessary to bring greater pressure to do those things, together with an intensified effort to build up what is already one of the few possible success stories in Iraq—the creation of an army unquestionably loyal to its elected Government. I hope that the Defence Secretary will clarify the Government’s view of US proposals for increased involvement of troops in training Iraqi forces. A lot has been done already. Is there a similar line of thinking among our own Government? To what use will the £100 million offered by the Chancellor at the weekend actually be put? Our assessment of the importance of these domestic objectives and whether they can be realised within Iraq will surely determine the effectiveness of our military contribution and our international diplomacy. Only when we know that the Iraqi Government are capable of accomplishing those objectives can we all assess how long our military presence will be useful. The same applies to Afghanistan.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Hague: I shall give way one more time, but then I must rattle through the rest of my remarks.

Jim Sheridan: The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case for international co-operation in Iraq. However, his own Back Benchers advocate leaving Europe, while the Front Benchers are talking about distancing themselves from American policy. If the unthinkable happened and his party came to power, whom would it work with in respect of international affairs?

Mr. Hague: I am not sure that that intervention was wholly up to the level of the debate so far, which is not about differences in European policy. I have emphasised the agreement with what the Foreign Secretary said about EU enlargement and working with the United States, so I shall carry on to make two more points, then let others speak.

We have troops in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, whose performance is one of extraordinary resilience and sometimes outright heroism. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the shadow Defence Secretary, has always said that there would be two unacceptable outcomes in Afghanistan: to fail to act or to act and fail. Government assessments in the past have been rather over-optimistic, including when
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the Defence Secretary said in July said that neither the Taliban nor the range of illegally armed groups posed a threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan. Such assessments seem complacent now, and were seen as such at the time. If NATO’s deployment was informed by the same thinking, it is no wonder that serious difficulties have been encountered.

Again, not everything that should be done is in the gift of this country. The creation of an effective judiciary and the combating of a massive level of corruption must be carried out if we are not to face long-term failure, but other things are within our gift.

Mr. Ellwood: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hague: I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment, as he has been to Afghanistan so often.

The Government have been working on some of the things that need to be done, such as the Prime Minister’s announcement of aid for Pakistan at the weekend, but they have been slow to do other things.

Mr. Ellwood: Brigadier John Lorimer, who is shortly to take over command of British forces, has requested a number of Challenger tanks and Warriors, as well as an entire battalion. However, the answer that he has received is that his request is unlikely to be met. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to win the war against the Taliban, we must arm our troops with the right kit to perform the task?

Mr. Hague: There does seem to be a gap, to which my hon. Friend has pointed, between repeated prime ministerial assertions that our troops will of course have everything that they want, and reports, which often filter through, that they want a good deal more than has been provided for them. Our troops were short of helicopter lift for a long time, but have received only two additional Chinooks in recent months. Co-operation and relationships between the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence in Helmand province are often said to be poor.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): It is appropriate that I should intervene at this stage, because the misinformation on which the previous intervention was based ought to be corrected. The press speculation about General Lorimer—[Hon. Members: “Brigadier Lorimer.”] I apologise. The speculation about Brigadier Lorimer was contained in an article in which he was quoted as knocking down the very suggestion that was made to support the article. I can confirm to the House what Brigadier Lorimer himself has confirmed, which is that the request that was allegedly reported in the press has not yet been made. There is of course a process for review of troops, but there is no truth in the assertion that a request has been made, which will be refused.

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