Questions for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on EU Negotiations with Iran (Excerpts)

April 5, 2005

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • France
  • Germany
  • Iraq

. . .

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): If he will make a statement on the progress of the EU negotiations with Iran about Iran's nuclear programme.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the EU High Representative, the European Commission and the Luxembourg EU presidency met an Iranian delegation in Paris on 23 March. The meeting was the latest in a series launched by the Paris agreement of 15 November 2004. All sides remain committed to agreeing long-term arrangements, as envisaged in the Paris agreement.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. However, bearing in mind the Government's use of intelligence over Iraq, how can we trust their assessment of Iran's weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Straw: We have made no published assessment based on intelligence about Iran and we have no plans to do so. The international community is concerned about Iran not because we have seen incontrovertible evidence that it has a nuclear weapons programme, but because of what is plainly on the record in the reports of the director general and the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency-namely, that Iran, over a period that goes back 20 years, has failed to comply with its safeguard agreements to give notice to the IAEA of all areas in which it was pursuing dual-use nuclear programs. That is the basis on which we, in the so-called E3, have been taking forward the negotiations. I hope and believe that they are tough and will produce an acceptable solution.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): We should acknowledge the great personal effort that the Foreign Secretary has put into our relations with Iran by going to Tehran, but, to be fair to the Iranians, is not it also true that they have suspended all nuclear activity over the past 18 months? Is it not the case that, on 23 March, Condoleezza Rice put forward some pretty positive ideas? Are they acceptable to the British Government? Do the Government stand by the commitment that there will be no military action against Iran? Is there some divergence from the French over attitudes to Iran in that they are more favorable towards having more positive relations than perhaps we are?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend asks me several questions. First, if I may, I should like to pay tribute to him because it is his last Foreign and Commonwealth Office Question Time and probably his last three days as a Member of this House after 42 years, including the past four years as Father of the House. My hon. Friend has been a good friend to me. He is a great parliamentarian, who will be remembered for his commitment to Parliament. He provides a fine example, which all should follow, whatever position they hold. I commend his work in Parliament and wish him well for the future.

I shall take my hon. Friend's questions in reverse order. He asked whether there was any divergence between us and France; there is not. Some have long suggested that there is such a divergence of view. The disappointment for some in Iran and some in the United States is that the United Kingdom, France and Germany have clearly kept together.

On military action, I have made it clear beyond peradventure that we can conceive of no circumstances in which military action against Iran would be justified. I cannot be clearer than that-[Interruption.] Do not forget what?

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Do not forget the word "gravamen".

Mr. Straw: On the issue of the offers made by Condoleeza Rice on 23 March, we welcome those and they are a product of the negotiations. The real importance of the announcements made by the United States Government on 23 March was that they had moved from a position of some detachment about the E3 process to one of active support. Some of the things that we want to give to the Iranians we can only give to them if the US also does so. That is what we have now got, with the United States commendably agreeing not to block Iran's application for membership of the World Trade Organization and to provide Iran with much-needed aircraft spares.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Is the Foreign Secretary aware that while many of us criticize the Government for many things, a lot of us would like to pay tribute to him for his enormous efforts to maintain co-operation with Iran on the difficult nuclear issue? Does he accept that real progress is now being made, with access to all the appropriate centers at which such activities take place? Will he carry on with the good work, which is helping to maintain a situation that is desperately important for stability in the Middle East?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Gentleman, who has taken such an interest in this issue over many years. It has helped me, and us, to know that there is wide support for our efforts to secure a peaceful solution to Iran's problems. Iran is not the easiest country with which to negotiate. It has made progress, however, and has suspended its reprocessing and uranium enrichment activities, which is of great importance in order to ensure, as provided by the Paris agreement, that there are objective guarantees that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme. Although I am clear that negotiations will continue to be difficult, I look forward to their satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): First, may I associate the Conservative Benches with the Foreign Secretary's tribute to the Father of the House, and also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) who is also retiring shortly? Is it not the case that the United States' support for the negotiations was only won following the pledge that in the event of failure, the UK and the EU would support a reference to the Security Council? What is the deadline for progress to be seen to be taking place before a referral will be supported?

Mr. Straw: I apologize for the fact that I omitted to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor). As an Essex lad, it always seemed slightly improbable to me that he, coming from the west coast of Scotland, should have taken to the rather raucous people whom I know and love in Southend, but he has done so, and they have to him. It has been a wonderful relationship. He, too, is a great parliamentarian.

There has been no change of approach by the E3. What was on the table right from the start of discussions between Joska Fischer, Dominique de Villepin, the then Foreign Minister of France, and me in June 2003 was that the default setting would be that we would join with other partners in referring Iran's clear breach of its safeguards agreement to the Security Council. That has always been in reserve, and it has been the means by which we have encouraged Iran to come to the negotiating table. Some active discussions took place on 1 March between the three European Foreign Ministers and Condoleeza Rice in private, and those discussions led, I believe, to the movement by the United States.

We have no specific time scale, and cannot set a specific one. I hope that the moment does not arise, but if and when it does, we shall all be clear that it has arrived.

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