Assessment of Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program (Excerpts)

January 31, 2011

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

. . .

3. Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): What assessment he has made of Iran's potential nuclear weapons capability; and if he will make a statement. [36736]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons as assessed. However, it continues to pursue uranium enrichment and the construction of a heavy water research reactor, both of which have military potential, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. We share the very serious concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran not having adequately explained evidence of possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme. We will therefore respond accordingly.

Richard Harrington: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but in the light of recent comments by Meir Dagan, who recently retired as the head of Mossad, about Iran's first nuclear weapon possibly being ready by the middle of this decade, will he make a statement on how the Government intend to proceed in their approach to Iran's nuclear programme?

Dr Fox: My hon. Friend raises perhaps one of the most important questions at the present time, which is: how do we assess Iran's intentions and how do we assess the time scale? Despite his long experience, I think that Mr Dagan was wrong to insinuate that we should always look at the more optimistic end of the spectrum. We know from previous experience, not least from what happened in North Korea, that the international community can be caught out assuming that things are rosier than they actually are. We should therefore be clear that it is entirely possible that Iran may be on the 2012 end of that spectrum, and act in accordance with that warning.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): May I invite the Secretary of State to read the article in the current edition of International Affairs by Professor Nigel Biggar, the regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford? He argues that

"one lesson that we should not learn from Iraq is never again to violate the letter of international law and intervene militarily in a sovereign state without Security Council authorization. The law's authority can be undermined as much by the UN's failure to enforce it, as by states taking it into their own hands."

The one thing that might be worse than action against Iran is Iran possessing a nuclear weapon.

Dr Fox: The right hon. Gentleman makes a useful point. With the United Nations having made the assessment that it has, it is clear that we have a moral obligation to carry forward the actions outlined, not least the economic sanctions, which are now beginning to have an effect. For Iran to have a nuclear weapon would be the worst of all possible options for global security, not least because it is likely to usher in not only the end of non-proliferation but a nuclear arms race in the world's most unstable region.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): What sort of signal does it send to Iran and other hostile would-be proliferators that our nuclear deterrent could be put at ransom in the event of another hung Parliament, as a result of our not having signed the key contracts and the hostility towards the replacement of Trident evinced by the Liberal Democrats?

Dr Fox: The Government remain committed, including in the coalition agreement, to the renewal of our nuclear deterrent. As I am sure my hon. Friend would expect, I will be campaigning to ensure that the next Parliament is not a hung Parliament, but one in which we have a minority- [ Interruption ]-a majority Conservative Government.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I shall forgive the Secretary of State that slip of the tongue. Has he made any assessment of the breakdown of the P5 plus 1 negotiations in Istanbul, and can he say whether there are any plans to resume them?

Dr Fox: There is always a need to maintain the dialogue, if only to make it clear to Iran that there is no weakening in the position of the international community. It is also essential that, as well as just talking, real measures are taken. If we are serious about the Iran issue, we need to look at it this way. It is a binary question: Iran will either become a nuclear weapons state or it will not. If we are intent on the latter course, the international community needs to act as well as speak. At the present time, that primarily means ensuring that the financial sanctions, which are having an effect on the regime in Tehran, are fully implemented and that no domestic considerations are put ahead of international security and well-being.

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