Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I think I understood the noble Lord to say that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition that the non-proliferation treaty should be revised to recognise the nuclear status of India, Pakistan, Israel and anyone else who wants to pop up and say that they have a nuclear programme. Is that correct?

Lord Howell of Guildford: No, my Lords. That is an over-simplification of a much more complicated thought, which is that at present we are dealing with an NPT regime with the five existing nuclear powers at its core. The reality is that there are more existing nuclear powers and—the noble Lord does not accept this, but I tell him that it will happen—Iran will get nuclear weapons. I ask the noble Lord whether he will hang on to the NPT in those circumstances, or recognise that we must embrace an Iran with nuclear weapons in a new collaborative, transparent regime. That is the issue that he, and high officials of state in his former department, will have to face. I urge them to face it sooner rather than later. Those are the remarks I have to offer to your Lordships in a fascinating debate.
9 Feb 2006 : Column 817

2.09 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, it is self-evident that today's debate is exceptionally timely. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, not only for raising the issues but for doing so with such wisdom and generosity towards the Foreign Secretary and the Government. He will have seen frequently and at first hand the interests of this country and of our allies through the complex prism of security concerns, and that knowledge shone through. Twenty Members of the House have taken part in the debate, and I thank all 19, aside from myself.

This is a desperately dangerous moment: the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is right about that. I shall read his article in the International Herald Tribune today, even if I say little about low energy economies in general in this response. I assure him that the Foreign Secretary all the time raises the questions that he seeks to have raised in capitals around the world.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and others have made the point that if we put the debate into context, it is a debate about a great and ancient culture that, sadly, is now somewhat isolated from international communities. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, reminds us of the dissonance and suspicion that it now has for some of the rest of the world. A good part of that is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, because of the Iran-Iraq war. It is also, of course, about the West and its arming of Iraq, but it is also about Iraq itself and Iraq's intentions in those years.

Last week, the 35 members of the International Atomic Energy Agency board met in special session to discuss Iran's challenge to the international non-proliferation system and how to respond to this challenge. On 4 February, they adopted a resolution that paves the way for the UN Security Council to discuss Iran's nuclear programme for the first time. This resolution is a clear demonstration of just how thin the patience of the international community has been worn by years of Iranian deception and delay.

The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, helped us through the key sequence, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, in his introductory speech. Two and a half years have now passed since Iran was forced to admit to the IAEA that for many years it had been busily engaged in the construction of secret installations to enrich uranium and to produce plutonium, which could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons. In that two and a half years, Iran has ignored repeated IAEA board resolutions calling on it to address international concerns and to take steps to build confidence that its nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes.

In the past two and a half years, we have attempted with France and Germany, as the E3, to find a diplomatic solution to the issue. We have negotiated with Iran in good faith, aiming to persuade Iran to take steps to guarantee that its nuclear programme will
9 Feb 2006 : Column 818
not be used for military ends. We offer Iran the prospect not only of long-term solutions to the nuclear issue, but of a stronger relationship with Europe, and the prospect of building consistently on that relationship and co-operating on political and security issues and in economic and scientific fields. Iran, however, has rejected all constructive attempts to find a solution to this issue. That is why the IAEA board has been compelled to send Iran a strong message that the international community will no longer accept Iran's continuing failure to restore the confidence that was destroyed by 18 years of concealment and deception.

The two and a half years invested in negotiations with Iran have not been wasted. I make that point straightforwardly to the noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston. In that time, Iran's nuclear programme has been slowed down and opened up to international inspections. Last week's vote demonstrated a degree of international consensus and unity of purpose that was quite inconceivable two and a half years ago; China and Russia voting in that group—inconceivable!

The international community is now united in opposition to the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is absolutely right to say that the steps now taken in relation to the UN Security Council are the right ones. Our aim in involving the Security Council is to support rather than to supplant the IAEA's authority. No action will be taken at the Security Council until publication of the report to the March meeting of the board of governors on Iran's co-operation with the IAEA by the IAEA director-general, Dr El Baradei. Speculation about sanctions, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said—I hope I am not trying to put words into his mouth—is premature at this stage, although of course their future use cannot be ruled out.

My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have repeatedly made it clear that military action is on no one's agenda. We are committed to a diplomatic solution, and are working to see diplomacy succeed. The consequences of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are unthinkable. Central Asia and the Middle East, two of the world's most volatile areas, would be destabilised. Other states are almost certain to seek to enhance their own capabilities, thus prompting a regional arms race. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the bedrock of international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, would plainly be badly damaged, as would the goal, which we persist in achieving, of creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, a cause to which we are committed.

If Iran's nuclear programme is indeed intended purely for civilian use, it has no economic or technical rationale. There is no requirement for Iran to resume activities now when it has no operating nuclear reactors, with only one under construction that has a long-term contract for fuel supply. More worryingly, Iran has had information that would help it to produce uranium hemispheres, which have no use other than in the development of nuclear weapons provided by the Khan operation.
9 Feb 2006 : Column 819

We know that information has been made available to the IAEA about tests related to high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which plainly have a military nuclear dimension. Combined with Iran's long history of concealment, these facts have resulted in a lack of international confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes, as demonstrated by the overwhelming support for Saturday's board resolution. May I say to noble Lords who have asked about the United States that I believe that it is wholly aligned with the process that I have described, as are many other countries such as Brazil, India, Egypt and China?

That brings us to the questions that have been asked about Russia in this context. With our support, Russia too has sought a way forward that is not yet wholly formally formulated but that none the less is clear and proposes that, as part of the final agreement, Iran might have a financial-only stake in the enrichment joint venture in Russia. This would help to assure Iran that it could rely on a supply of fuel for its nuclear reactors without acquiring technologies that could be used to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

The Russians, too, made it clear that in order for their ideas to proceed further, Iran would need to keep suspended all its own enrichment and enrichment-related activities. We are prepared to endorse that idea but only so long as all the enrichment took place outside Iran and in Russia. The Russians have presented it in these terms. Since then, the Iranian position has been contradictory and, I believe, deliberately confusing. At the Iranians' request, European political directors agreed to meet one of Iran's negotiators, Javad Vaidi, in Brussels on Monday, 30 January, but Vaidi indicated that there was no room for flexibility.

Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment-related activity three weeks ago was a clear rejection by Iran of both European and Russian efforts to get back into the talks. Iran's actions have shown no respect for the IAEA resolutions or for the commitments that it has made both to us and to the Russians. This cannot be portrayed as harmless research. The Iranians are developing technologies that would enable them to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. What Iran claims is a small step is in fact a fundamental one.

The consequences of Iran having those weapons—as I have said, the destabilisation of the region and the inauguration of an arms race—is unthinkable and cannot be accepted by any of us. That, in turn, raises the questions that the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Anderson, raised about the idea of fuel banks. There are possible attractions. A lot of work has been done over the best part of 30 years in looking at the establishment of a central internationally run depository for all enriched uranium produced in the world. This is not one of the options which the IAEA's panel of experts considers to be feasible at the moment. Apart from the implications for the IAEA of having to store and to maintain the stockpile, the stock of enriched uranium would be of little practical use. At the moment, there are too many different reactor designs, each with its own kind of fuel. Fuel would
9 Feb 2006 : Column 820
have to be fabricated to order, usually by the state supplying the reactor. Practical difficulties such as these, not to mention the responsibility for dispensing with spent fuels, have made it very difficult to find a workable solution as yet, but I do not rule out the possibility that people should carry on trying.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page