PARLIAMENT UK -- Iran: Nuclear Programme -- 23 May 2005 : Column 237, 238


Lord Corbett of Castle Vale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to reports that the Iranian Government are to resume uranium enrichment which could be weapons-related.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, representatives of the Government of Iran have made a number of statements indicating a wish to resume the conversion of uranium at its facility at Esfahan. We have made it clear to Iran that such action would breach the November 2004 Paris agreement. In this case, the United Kingdom, along with France and Germany, shall have no choice but to support referring Iran's nuclear programme to the UN Security Council. We remain committed to seeking mutually acceptable long-term arrangements with Iran, but that must be within the context of the Paris agreement.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Iran's continued deceit, deception and defiance mean that it would be better if the Government ended their present policy of appeasement of this odious theocracy? Is it not time that the title of "terrorist" was hung around the mullah's neck rather than around those of people seeking to restore the democracy and human rights that have been stolen from them?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, although I understand that sentiment, the efforts that we are all taking must be to try to ensure that a nuclear-weapons capability does not develop in Iran. That must be our first and foremost objective. In that light, I can report to the House that the Foreign Secretary will meet with the E3 and the Iranian counterparts in Geneva on 24 May to emphasise that a resumption of conversion activities would breach the Paris agreement and inevitably lead to the E3 proposing to the IAEA that it reports Iran to the UN Security Council. It is essential to give the meeting on 24 May every chance of success. That must be our priority. However, that does not dim the need for proper democracy to emerge in that country.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, given that the statement by the Iranian vice president, Mr Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is also head of the nuclear programme, was not only that they would resume the conversion of yellowcake to uranium tetrafluoride, but that they had already produced 37 tonnes of that material. How will the international community be certain that those 37 tonnes will not be fed into the enrichment plants at Natanz? Has the Minister observed that the Council of Guardians has whittled down the number of candidates for the presidency to six—two of whom are mullahs, and four are former commanders of the Revolutionary Guard—and that the lead candidate is Mr Rafsanjani, who was the original architect of the nuclear programme in the mid-1980s? Given those circumstances, will Britain and the international community declare that the forthcoming elections have no democratic legitimacy?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I had of course noticed the news this morning about the number of candidates being reduced to six. However, in trying to deal with the fundamental questions raised in this Starred Question, perhaps I may suggest that noble Lords should reflect on the priorities of the day. The first priority must be to ensure that the fuel cycle arguments are either verified or not verified. That requires detailed work in the meeting that is to come and in other meetings. The E3 group meets regularly on this. That must be the first and fundamental point.

It is always possible that those who are involved will reflect on the discussions and conclude that there is duplicity. They may make better progress, as we must all hope for. As I said, if they conclude that there is duplicity, the resort is to the UN Security Council on the grounds of a clear breach of the Paris agreement.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister recollect from his reading of the crucial Smyth report on the manufacture of nuclear weapons, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, published by the United States Government in August 1945, that the enrichment of uranium is but a small step in the manufacture of a nuclear weapon that will detonate at the right time in the right place? Therefore, regrettable and suspicious though the enrichment programme in Iran may be, it is important that we do not allow that issue to dominate our very important development of relations with Iran.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there is a lot of sense in that point, and that is why I used the words "fuel cycle" in the response that I gave a few moments ago. One of the activities involved in all non-proliferation work is to make an assessment of whether the fuel cycle is being used to branch out in the direction of weapons of mass destruction and in particular the manufacture of nuclear weapons. That is the discussion that has to take place around Iran, and 24 May is a staging post in that.

If the Iranians are convincing that they are trying to generate power of a peaceful kind rather than power of a disastrous kind, no doubt the international community will be mightily relieved. Otherwise the international community will have to face the responsibilities that fall upon it.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the word "appeasement" is not the proper one to use regarding the process which the EU three—Britain, France and Germany—are using in seeking to ensure that the rule of law under the treaty on WMD is strictly observed by Iran? Unless we want to go down the road of another Iraq, and a more serious one if I may say so, we have to stick with the attempts being made in the present negotiations and seek an outcome that does not lead to a Security Council escalation in the tradition of Iraq.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That is why I put it to noble Lords on all sides of the House to answer the question of what methodology they would prefer. I prefer, and this has been indicated in one or two of the questions, a methodology that involves detailed discussion, proper inspection, the involvement of the international community in that inspection, the resolution of what the processed uranium is intended to be used for and to try to resolve the matter by agreement. Were everyone to stick to the Paris agreement, that could certainly be achieved. We must make sure that they do.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that we have reached an extraordinarily dangerous moment and that we need to keep closely in touch not only with our European colleagues, but also with Washington about the next step? Does he also agree that whatever the Paris agreement may say about uranium enrichment and yellowcake conversion, the awful truth is that under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed by Iran, uranium enrichment for civil purposes is permitted. Does that not lead to the conclusion that we should be looking at some of the legal and constitutional holes in the present non-proliferation treaty structure and aiming reforms at that in order to make the whole process more legal and transparent?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I accept the point made by the noble Lord about the dangers of this particular moment. However, I am glad to say that in facing up to those dangers the European Union three and the United States share exactly the same objectives. The US has made it clear that we have a common purpose. We both want to see the diplomatic process succeed and we want Iran to honour its obligations. I also take the point that the treaty is not entirely watertight on these matters. But I think we share the view that the critical task for the international community, through its institutions, is to make a judgment on whether the enrichment process is intended to end in the building of nuclear weapons or whether it has a genuine, legitimate and proven intention to be the source of an electrical power supply. Strengthening the treaty would not be of imminent help to us because it will not be strengthened imminently, but the argument for reviewing it is sound.




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