UK policy towards Iran - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Human rights standards

1.  We recognise the enormous difficulties faced by the FCO in its attempts to bring about an improvement in human rights standards in Iran. We encourage the FCO to continue to take any opportunities that arise, whether bilaterally or multilaterally, to reiterate the UK's objection to unacceptable practices, including executions, persecution of people on the grounds of their faith, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression. No concessions should be made on human rights in the interests of making progress in negotiations in other fields. (Paragraph 22)

The Tehran Embassy

2.  The storming of the UK Embassy by an Iranian mob in Tehran in 2011 was reprehensible and should never have been permitted by Iranian security forces. We welcome the recent decision to re-open the Embassy in Tehran, and we understand why the Foreign Secretary adopted a cautious approach towards the revival of diplomatic relations. We question, however, whether the UK waited too long for assurances on security which were never going to be forthcoming from all quarters of the Iranian hierarchy. The lack of full diplomatic representation in Iran hinders the UK's ability to shape events, gather information, and reassure its regional allies that it could make fully informed assessments of Iranian opinion and intentions. (Paragraph 36)

Pursuing the UK's interests

3.  There is a serious risk that longstanding allies in the Gulf and elsewhere in the region will feel overlooked if the UK does not invest considerable diplomatic effort in reassurance. The UK and others need to be able to show an early dividend from the Joint Plan of Action if they are to retain confidence in the initiative amongst their regional allies. (Paragraph 37)

4.  There are signs that the UK's willingness to follow the lead of the US in opposing a possible deal with Iran in 2005 meant that an opportunity to make progress in resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear programme was lost, although we cannot know whether an acceptable compromise could actually have been reached at the time. We welcome the subsequent convergence of UK and US policy on Iran and its nuclear programme. We see it as a considerable success that a united front has been maintained by the P5+1 countries in recent negotiations, and that Iran has been presented with little or no obvious opportunity to prey on differences between members of the P5+1 negotiating team. We commend the FCO for its work in cementing the combined approach. (Paragraph 41)

5.  While it should be for the FCO to judge when the right time might be for a gesture such as a statement by the UK recognising the scale of Iranian suffering during the Iran-Iraq war, or acknowledgement of any UK role in the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq in 1953, we believe that the FCO should be prepared to take such a step if the circumstances warrant it and if Iran also makes a similar public gesture recognising its own support for terrorism, attack on the British Embassy or other past behaviour. (Paragraph 44)

6.  We recommend that the FCO press the Home Office to agree to practical measures which would reduce the burden on Iranians applying for entry clearance to the UK while maintaining the rigour of the process. (Paragraph 46)

Iran's nuclear programme

7.  There is no convincing explanation for why Iran might need for civil purposes the stocks of enriched uranium which it held in January 2014. We believe that the primary reason for Iran's decision to build such a capacity to enrich uranium and to amass stocks to current levels was to give itself the option to develop a nuclear military capability. That has almost been achieved. While the Foreign and Commonwealth Office refers to the body of evidence pointing towards possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme, we are not aware of any unequivocal evidence that Iran has taken a decision to push ahead and develop a nuclear weapon. (Paragraph 61)

The merits of negotiation and its alternatives

8.  We endorse the UK's decision to take part in negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme through the framework of the Joint Plan of Action. (Paragraph 81)

Pursuing negotiations

9.  While Mr Rouhani has the impetus of his election victory and demonstrably high levels of public support, we believe that the P5+1 can have confidence that he is an authoritative representative of Iran. We also believe that, having stood on a platform of achieving an economic revival by negotiating with the P5+1 and getting sanctions lifted, he is genuinely committed to a sustainable deal. For now at least, he should be trusted; but he should be judged by his actions, not by his words. (Paragraph 89)

10.  We make the following observations on negotiations on the comprehensive agreement:

·  There is probably no prospect of a lasting deal which does not allow Iran to enrich uranium

·  Enrichment capacity should be limited to a level which Iran would not reject outright but which would still allow enough time for any attempt at breakout to be detected and referred to the UN Security Council—we suggest six months as an absolute minimum

·  Trust, which is essential if the Plan is to succeed, may crumble unless the comprehensive agreement enshrines a right for the IAEA to make unannounced and intrusive inspections of all nuclear facilities, products, designs and records

·  The IAEA's Additional Protocol offers a good basis for the more stringent monitoring which is required, although it may be preferable to build the key provisions into the terms of the comprehensive agreement rather than require adoption of the Additional Protocol itself

·  International sanctions undoubtedly played a major part in preparing the ground for a more amenable Iranian negotiating position. They may not have directly forced Iran to make concessions; but the fatigue amongst large sections of the Iranian public with the international isolation and disadvantage which flowed from sanctions was a factor in the election of President Rouhani, which in turn paved the way for more fruitful negotiations

·  The limited sanctions relief being applied under the Joint Plan of Action has reduced pressure on Iran and has provided it with a breathing space, but that should not necessarily be seen in a negative light: it may even strengthen the appetite in Iran for taking the steps necessary to allow further layers of sanctions to be peeled away

·  We doubt that any deal would have been achieved in Geneva in November 2013 had limited sanctions relief not been offered

·   The Joint Commission established under the Joint Plan of Action should include activities at the Parchin military site as part of its discussions "to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern"

·   Modifying the design of the Arak reactor so that it produces less plutonium has value, but third-party monitoring of storage of the spent fuel—or preferably removal and third-party custody of it—would be instrumental in helping to allay concerns. (Paragraph 93)

11.  Not enough is being done to put into practice that part of the Joint Plan of Action which is designed to facilitate trade with Iran in humanitarian goods. The UK should not assume that letters of comfort from the US Treasury to banks will be enough to reassure them that they will not be penalised commercially for facilitating humanitarian trade. Ministers should state publicly that they encourage UK banks to provide the necessary facilities for trade in humanitarian goods and will if required defend to the US Treasury their right to do so. If trade with Iran in humanitarian goods is facilitated under the Joint Plan of Action, even if only on a limited scale, vigilance will be needed if the diversion of funds and illicit trade which occurred under the Oil-For-Food Programme in Iraq is not to be repeated in Iran. (Paragraph 97)

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Prepared 14 July 2014