Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)|
MP, PAUL ARKWRIGHT
4 FEBRUARY 2009
Q220 Sir Menzies Campbell: I think
I heard you say, Minister, that the NPT had a good track record.
I wonder if you would maintain that in the light of the experiences
of both 2000 and 2005 at the review conferences, where there were
very substantial difficulties all around. Is there not a sense
that the 2010 review is of enormous importance? If it were seen
to be a failure in any sense, that would make the sustainability
of the NPT very difficult to achieve.
Bill Rammell: I agree with that
and, bluntly, at the last review conference there were too many
empty seats. I need to get the balance right here in that I do
think the NPT has achieved progress; if you look at President
Kennedy's predictions back in the 1960s, we have reined back what
was the accepted wisdom at that stage of how far nuclear proliferation
would go. But the challenges are daunting, and that is why we
have got to make further progress.
I think I am justified by the evidence in saying
that there is a concern among some non-nuclear weapon states that
there has not been sufficient progress in terms of disarmament
by the nuclear weapons states. We need to do more to get across
the evidence of the progress that has been made, but also to set
out a trajectory of how we want to, and, indeed, how we can, go
further. I also worry that some non-nuclear weapon states simply
do not see proliferation as a concern and a challenge, so we have
to engage on that level as well.
In summation, I absolutely agree with you that
next year's conference will be critically important to reinvigorating
the NPT. Yes, it has made progress, but given the scale of the
challenge that we face it has got to go further.
Q221 Sir Menzies Campbell: The treaty
is essentially a bargain between the declared nuclear powers and
the non-nuclear powers. Do I understand from what you say that
you accept that there is a sense of disappointment on the part
of some of the non-nuclear powers that the bargain has not been
Bill Rammell: To state the obvious,
you could go around the world and find people who articulate that
Q222 Sir Menzies Campbell: But if
I asked whether it was justified?
Bill Rammell: I am not sure it
is justified. Has it achieved all that we want it to achieve?
No, but the Government and I remain committed to trying to create
the conditions where we can have a non-nuclear world in terms
of nuclear weapons. Have we done enough? No, we have not. Have
we made progress? I think we have. Take examples like South Africa
and Libya, which voluntarily renounced nuclear weaponsI
think that has been very positive progress. There are concerted
efforts within the international community, through the treaty,
to tackle states of concern like Iran and the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea. On the back of what has already been substantial
disarmament by the recognised nuclear weapon states, I think there
is an ambition to go significantly further.
Q223 Mr. Horam: There are obviously
specific issues in this area, such as Iran and North Korea, but
some of us who were in Vienna and Geneva recently discussing the
broad issue of non-proliferation and disarmament were told by
many of the ambassadors there that, in their view, the whole issue
had dropped away significantly in the last few years. The non-governmental
organisations no longer had a great interest in it; they had switched
their attention to things such as climate change and human rights.
You talked about this document being designed to engage the public
and get some momentum going, but that is extremely difficult,
because apart from these one or two specific problems, people
think it is all over. Would you agree with that?
Bill Rammell: There is a grain
of truth in that. At one level, it is a demonstration of the success
that has been achieved in terms of the reduction of nuclear arsenals
that people think the threat and the danger have gone away. I
think this is still the most significant challenge that we face.
You have still goteven with the reductionsenormous
arsenals that exist. You have got rogue states that clearly have
an intent to develop nuclear capability. You have terrorists
Q224 Mr. Horam: What is the key to
getting momentum going though?
Bill Rammell: One, I think you
need political leadership and I think the
Q225 Mr. Horam: Is it all about President
Bill Rammell: I would be lying
if I did not say that I think his election provides a genuinely
positive re-injection of commitment and momentum into this process.
But it not just about him; it is about political leadership right
the way across the board. It is also about engaging with people
and convincing them that, despite the progress, there is a real
threat here. In part, that is what the document is about. I was
going to say you have also got al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks
that have made their desire and their intent to develop nuclear
capability explicitly clear. They do not have that capability
as of yet, but this is a serious ongoing challenge.
Q226 Mr. Horam: On a slightly separate
point, one of the things which struck us in Vienna and Geneva
was the enormous number of overlapping organisations in this field.
You have, for example, the IAEA and the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty Organisationeven though the test ban treaty has
not even been ratifieddoing similar work and you have the
Zangger group and the Nuclear Supply Group doing similar work.
Is there not a case for some rationalisation and co-operation
in this whole area? I nearly said minefield, but you know what
Bill Rammell: At one level, it
is about a coalition of the willing. What you need to ensure is
that there is not competitive overlap between the different approaches
and not friction between them, and you have to spend and work
a lot to ensure that that is the case. Take the example of the
nuclear fuel cycle and how we can ensure that civil nuclear power
is not being diverted into nuclear weapons. There are about 12
different international initiatives at the moment. On one level
you might say that is too much
Mr. Horam: It is.
Bill Rammell: In an ideal world,
you would probably say you need one initiative that everybody
agrees on, and you pull together on. However, the world is not
quite like that. What you need to ensure is that initiatives do
not detract from each other, and I do not believe they do. If
different states are working in different areas and actually make
progress, I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.
Q227 Chairman: Witnesses have said to
us that the use of the term "weapons of mass destruction"
is not helpful and that it blurs the fact that nuclear weapons
are a category that should be dealt with in a separate way. Do
Bill Rammell: I am not sure I
do. I agree that you can have a chemical or a biological attack
that is clearly survivable in terms of the whole of mankind, but
I find it difficult to envisage a nuclear conflict that is, in
the main, survivable. However, it has been used as a generic term
to describe and underline the threat we face on all these fronts.
Undoubtedly, however, I think the nuclear threat is the most significant
challenge that we face.
Q228 Chairman: I do not want to reopen
history, but in 2002 and 2003, there was all this stuff in the
media about WMD and it was not clear whether people were talking
about a chemical shell or a nuclear bomb. You are talking about
popularising and making things clear for the lay person. One of
the difficulties is that if you use that broader term in a debate,
it conceals the differences between the categories and their ability
to have very different effects on the battlefield.
Bill Rammell: I will reflect on
that. We are in danger of going back over the Iraq conflict.
Chairman: I am not trying to do that.
Bill Rammell: I was at the Foreign
Office at the time, at the heart of it, and if you look back on
all the statements that were made, certainly in terms of what
we were saying as a country and a Government, we were very clear
that this was a chemical threat that we were taking, notwithstanding
the fact that Saddam may have had a desire to develop nuclear
Would it help us to come up with a new terminology?
Perhaps it would. However, I think we might then spend a great
deal of time negotiating on the terminologyyou need to
get a consensus internationallyrather than making real
progress on what matters in terms of disarmament.
Q229 Mr. Purchase: One of the main,
if not major, scientific narratives of the 20th and 21st centuries
has been miniaturisation. Everything is getting smaller and more
portable, which is reflected in our concerns that it is not so
much countries that may attack one another by using of nuclear
weapons, but terrorist organisations. As miniaturisation processes
advance, what assessment have the Government made of the risk
of it becoming easier and easier almost to conceal nuclear weapons
to the point where they can operate in just the same way as suicide
bombers are operating now?
Bill Rammell: Clearly such a risk
exists. I referred earlier to terrorist networkswhat al-Qaeda
has said on the record, and the fact that Osama bin Laden has
talked about an Islamic duty to develop nuclear capabilityand
there was a call to arms, as it were, and they were seeking to
recruit physicists and others to come forward and help. They clearly
have that intent.
We have to ward against their developing that
capability, which means that we need a number of instruments internationally
to try to tackle the problem. Things like the proliferation security
initiative help us, and we need to work with individual countries
of concern. We are doing that with a number of countries to ensure
that there is not the dispersal and the spread of nuclear weapons
technology. In a sense, it is about ongoing attention and vigilance.
Q230 Mr. Purchase: I have not really
got an answer from you, Minister. Is there any work taking place
that might prevent religious fundamentalists from using or getting
hold of this technology to miniaturise and to become an even bigger
threat, because of their religious convictions, than is possibly
the case now?
Mariot Leslie: The Government
are extremely worried about the capabilities of terrorist groups,
but I know of no technology that could make it possible to make
a viable nuclear device that did not use many kilograms of nuclear
material. A miniature nuclear device is not something that we
should be worried about. The acquisition of fissile material by
terrorist groups is a serious concern and the Government have
programmes to address that with our allies. Other attempts by
people to get their hands on advanced technology is a serious
concern, but the spectre of a miniature nuclear bomb is not something
that we should be worried about.
Q231 Chairman: Can I take that a
step further? Getting back to WMD categorisation, how do you assess
the relative risks of chemical or biological weapons being used
by a terrorist group and by a state? Would it be fair to say that
states are less likely than terrorist groups to use such weapons
because of the general international climate between states?
Bill Rammell: My instinctive answer
to that is yes. Mariot, do you agree?
Mariot Leslie: There is always
a riskif I have understood your question correctly, correct
me if I have notwith biological and chemical materials
that have dual use that it is relatively easy to make something
crude that would have a big impact on members of the public. The
risk is obviously an extremely serious one with nuclear materials,
but they are much more difficult to deliver in an effective form.
Rather than saying that we worry about one more than the otherit
is rather like your question about WMDswe need to work
on all the components and have a coherent policy that looks at
the risks for each element.
Q232 Mr. Illsley: Minister, I have
seen the memorandum that you supplied in relation to this inquiry,
which talks about the need for "meaningful and valuable incentives"
to be a key outcome of the NPT conference and treaty obligations.
In the evidence that we have received so far, it has been suggested
that if the issue is the weaknesses of the NPT, then there are
weaknesses in enforcing it. In view of that, and given the need
for consensus at the review conference, and given what my colleague
just referred to as a lack of enthusiasm around the conference
as a whole, is there a legal or political instrument that could
introduce automatic sanctions for violation of, or withdrawal
from, the treaty?
Bill Rammell: In an ideal world,
in advance of a particular cause for concern in respect of a specific
state, I would want an agreement through the UN Security Counciland
certainly through the NPTfor generic sanctions in respect
of a generic breach. Bluntly, if I am honest, we would not get
agreement on that at the moment, so we have to approach it on
a case-by-case basis. When those instances occur, we have to take
real, concerted, co-ordinated action. One would always like it
to be stronger, but if we take Iran as an example, we have now
had four successive Security Council resolutions, indicating that
there is a degree of concerted pressure and agreement internationally.
Similarly, through the six party talks, there has been a real
focus on the DPRK. Ideally, I would like to say that, yes, we
ought to have generic sanctions that kick in when there is a concern
with a particular state. That is the endgamewe are not
there at the moment, so we have to make efforts on a case-by-case
Q233 Mr. Illsley: My next question
is going to be about Iran: is there anything in prospect in relation
to the Iranian situation? Are you saying that that is not likely
to be the case?
Bill Rammell: The threat and challenge
with Iran is a real and genuine one. Looking at the track record,
one can see concealment for 20 years and refusal to engage adequately
with the IAEA. Our estimate is that Iran could develop capability
in years, not decades. The next year is going to be critical.
There is a substantial offer on the table through the E3 plus
3 process that meets all of what Iran, on the face of it, says
that it wants on civil nuclear capability. At all levels, we are
urging Iran to engage with that. The new US administration have
indicated that this will be a priority, and they have indicated
that they will talk directly to the Iranians, but within a context
that makes it clear that a nuclear weaponised Iran is not acceptable.
There is a choice for Iran: either to engage and receive all the
benefits that are available through the E3 plus 3 process, or
to face a significant ratcheting-up of further sanctions.
Q234 Mr. Illsley: Is there a comparison
between this issue in relation to the NPT and the chemical and
biological conventions? Is there a similar issue of a lack of
enforcement provision in those conventions as well?
Bill Rammell: If you look at the
chemical weapons convention, a verification regime is availablethat
is less the case with biological and toxin weapons conventions.
Our strong view in respect of all three is that you need universalisation,
with everybody signed up. You need as much verification as possible
to ensure that the progress stated as being made is genuinely
being made, and that we are not facing a threat from proliferation.
Q235 Mr. Hamilton: Continuing on
the theme of Iran, one of the problems we have is that they signed
up to the NPT, and they told us when we were there in November
2007 that the development of nuclear weapons was unIslamic, but
we have plenty of evidence to suggest that covert work is going
on there. They want to develop a civil nuclear power programme
and we in the Westholders ourselves of considerable stocks
of nuclear weaponsare telling them they may not have them.
At the same time, their arch-enemy, Israel, which has never signed
up to the NPT, has a civil nuclear power programme and also, as
far as everybody is aware, a military nuclear weapons programme.
There is a problem for them and they are trying to sell to their
own public the fact that they have abided by all the world's treaties
and conventions, but are being deliberately targeted, because
the world hates Iran. How do you deal with the view that we are
trying to stop them having what is rightfully theirstheir
civil nuclear power programme? That is what this is all about,
and it is certainly the way they are selling it to their population.
Bill Rammell: In respect of Israel,
we consistently argue that it should sign up to the NPT as a non-nuclear
Sir Menzies Campbell: As a non-nuclear
Bill Rammell: We have also strongly
argued that we would like to see a nuclear-free zone in the Middle
East. However, to say that Iran has been abiding by its commitments
is not borne out by the evidence. First, for 20 years, they were
concealing their activities from the international community.
Secondly, if you are going to sign up and operate properly and
effectively under the auspices of the NPT, you need to agree to
the safeguards agreement. In our view, you should agree to the
additional protocol. Iran has not been doing that.
As I have said, four successive Security Council
resolutions have asked Iran to engage with the IAEA and they have
not been doing that. There have been the alleged studies for military
purposes. If you look at what Dr. el-Baradei said in November,
he said that the information he had received from a number of
countries about what was taking place was derived from multiple
sources over different periods of time, that it was detailed in
content, and appeared to be generally consistent. I think Iran
is not operating in the way anyone would expect it to. If we say
this is about its civil nuclear power desires, the E3 plus 3 process
makes it abundantly clear that that civil nuclear resource is
available to Iran if it will simply engage. I just cannot see
on the evidence before me that there is a defensible position
that says this is just about Iran trying to get civil nuclear
Q236 Mr. Hamilton: How do we get
that message to the Iranian public? I know it is not for us to
do that, but there is no real free press thereany free
press gets shot down pretty quickly. So how do you get the message
across that it is not the NPT signatories, and it is not the rest
of the world that is trying to stop them having a civil nuclear
power programme? We are simply trying to make them abide by the
rules as everybody else must. Clearly, the Government of Iran
do not tell their own public that for 20 years it was deliberately
trying to hide information from the IAEA. How do we do that?
Bill Rammell: The honest answer
is you keep trying. Through all the channels that are available
to us, we try to get that message across to the regime. Although
there is an issue about communicating with the Iranian public,
I think we need to be realistic, because the regime, given the
structure of the society, will make those decisions. We need to
try and get that message across.
We also try to engageI met an Iranian
parliamentary delegation last week, and I think a number of Committee
members met it, too. Although I would not for a minute say that
it was a meeting of minds, it was actually one of the more constructive
discussions that I have had on this issue. We take the opportunity
through radio and televisionI was doing some interviews
with al-Jazeera and others just before Christmasto try
and communicate directly.
Mr. Hamilton: We will have to see if
the BBC Persian language service will help.
Chairman: I think that is a plug for
an event later today.
Q237 Andrew Mackinlay: Part of our
problem is rogue states or terrorists, along with states which
we are uncomfortable about. Iran would certainly be in the last
category at least. We have sanctions against Iran, and I assume
their purpose is twofold. One is to show our disapproval, and
the other is to frustrate them in their nuclear weapons ambitions.
Also, after 11 September, the UK Government, through the good
offices of Greenstock at the UN, drove United Nations countries
to have full transparencyfull disclosure of financial institutionsto
home in on resources which could be made available to purchase
weapons of mass destruction and/or embark on other terrorist activities,
which cost money.
I received a reply yesterday from the Prime
Minister, who said that in the United Kingdom, the sanctions regarding
the disclosure of moneys relating to the Iran regime have only
existed in respect of Iran and the UK for a year or two. I find
that quite astonishing, and it is against a backdropwe
have written as a Committee to the Government about thisof
Lloyds TSB admitting in the United States courts that they falsified
documents to ensure that moneys were available from Sudan and
on behalf of the Iranian Government of $300 million. If you look
at all the available evidence on the web, it appears that the
intent was to get money into the United States to buy at least
dual-use materials illegally. They have been rumbled in the United
States, but what I am concerned about it is whether our sanctions
and statutes are sufficient for us to control and, if need be,
prosecute people who are putting money through London either as
terrorists or as rogue states and dodgy countries? I found the
Prime Minister's reply quite astonishing. Can you throw some light
on just what we are able to do in the UK? Are we up to speed on
this? Are we up to muster? You know about this, don't you?
Bill Rammell: Yes, I do. Let me
go back to the beginning of your question. What is the purpose
of the sanctions? Bluntly, their purpose is to bring Iran to the
table. It is a stick and carrot approach. In respect of what we
have done, it is fair to describe us as being at the leading edge
of the European debate on sanctions. For example, in the UK, Iranian
banks no longer have access to sterling clearing facilities.
Q238 Andrew Mackinlay: Since when?
Bill Rammell: About 18 months
or two years ago.
Q239 Andrew Mackinlay: That was partly
my point. Why just 18 months ago? I think we were under the impression
that there were constraints on them for a long time. We are a
bit slow on this, aren't we?
Bill Rammell: Ultimately, if necessary,
we will go further on our own, but we are trying to get international
consensus because, bluntly, that will be the most effective way
of dealing with the regime. That is why we have been working in
the Security Council, and why we have been working in the European
Union. We have made it clear that, if necessary, we will go further
on our own. I can assure you that there is a very strong message
going from the Government to banks and British industry about
the undesirability of investing in Iran.
Andrew Mackinlay: This was handling money
Bill Rammell: Yes, absolutely.
I think we have been at the leading edge of the argument. We have
certainly been implementing sanctions, which are having an effect.
I am sure that the delegation I met last week, which a number
of you met, too, raised their concerns about sanctions with you.
That is all for a purpose: to bring them to the table. If that
does not happen, then we will go further. Ideally we would like
to do that globally and multilaterally, but if not