As many as 15 Conservative MPs participated in a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on ‘Iran and the proposed nuclear agreement’ led by CFI Deputy Chairman, Guto Bebb MP.
The debate featured important contributions from a number of senior Conservative MPs, including former Defence Secretary, Rt Hon. Dr. Liam Fox MP, and Nadhim Zahawi MP, a candidate to be Chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
The MPs outlined a series of major concerns with the proposed parameters for a permanent nuclear deal, including the premature lifting of sanctions, insufficient verification mechanisms, the danger of time-limiting the most severe restrictions for a mere 10-years, and Iran’s retention of a uranium enrichment infrastructure far in excess of that required for a genuine peaceful civilian nuclear power programme.
Emphasising that Iran has not earned the right to be entrusted with a nuclear programme, MP’s pointed to Iran’s proven record of financially and materially supporting terror groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.
Following the debate, Guto Bebb MP, said:
“The large attendance for this morning’s debate is testament to the high level of concern among Conservative MPs at the emerging nuclear deal. Iran has not been obligated to make enough concessions over its nuclear programme to sufficiently reassure the international community that it has no ambitions to develop nuclear weaponry. As the Minister said: ‘It is right that we should leave no stone unturned in the quest to reach an agreement. But we must not, and will not, do a bad deal. The stakes are too high’”.
Introducing the debate, Guto Bebb MP expressed frustration that the P5+1 had abandoned their original goal of non-proliferation to something “more closely related to an arms control treaty”. The Conservative MP for Aberconwy observed that “it would appear that the P5+1 are now willing to accept Iran’s being at the threshold of a nuclear breakout”. Mr Bebb asserted: “Many Members have concerns about the nature of the proposed deal”.
During his speech, the CFI Deputy Chairman recalled a warning by Dr Bruno Tertrais that it’s important not to “ignore the lessons of history: nuclear-capable countries never stay at the threshold for very long”.
Noting that the P5+1 had made “major concessions” to Iran, the MP for Aberconwy called for clarification on whether any had been “offered in return” by Iran. Mr Bebb stated: “There is a real question as to why the demands of the P5+1 have changed so dramatically and what concessions have been offered in return”.
Outlining particular concerns with the proposed parameters for a final deal, Mr Bebb questioned what would happen to the 13,000 or 14,000 extra centrifuges Iran has, in addition to the 6,000 it will be permitted to continue using. He posed: “If they are not dismantled, what is to stop them being recommissioned, and how long would it take to recommission them?” Mr Bebb also cautioned that there appeared to be “no such guarantees in the agreement” to monitor Iran’s research and development of sophisticated centrifuges.
The proposed length of the deal – possibly 10 years for the key terms – was identified as another area for concern. Mr Bebb posited: “In the context of considering the development of nuclear capacity, we must ask ourselves whether 10 years is reasonable or sufficient. Given that the deal does nothing, as far as I can see, to deal with Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities, there is a real question as to whether 10 years is insufficient”.
Turning to the issue of verification, the Aberconwy MP said: “There are real concerns as to whether that monitoring will be of an acceptable nature”. Citing that the “track record of the Iranian regime does not allow us to be confident”, Mr Bebb called on the Foreign Office and Government to provide “certainty” that “there is confidence that the degree of verification allowed under any agreement will be acceptable”. He then cited a recent vow by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that: “No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed”.
Mr Bebb spoke at length about the security concerns of Iran’s Gulf neighbours and asserted the need for the deal to “be acceptable to all…in the long term” and to “ensure that the agreement satisfies the concerns of our allies in the Middle East”. As a consequence of the concerns among Gulf states, Mr Bebb speculated that “other countries in the region would end up in an arms race—not to produce a nuclear weapon, but to be within six months of a breakout. It is worth mentioning that Prince Turki al-Faisal from Saudi Arabia stated clearly that – ‘Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too’”.
Identifying that 30 countries have a civilian nuclear programme, Mr Bebb said that only 11 of these have the capacity to enrich their own fuel and questioned “on what basis do the P5+1 conclude that Iran should become the 12th, given its Government’s track record on allowing monitoring and allowing third parties to examine its military capacity in relation to the enrichment of uranium”.
Former Defence Secretary, Rt. Hon. Dr. Liam Fox MP, contended that it was dangerous to appease Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Citing Iran’s track record of clandestine nuclear work, Dr. Fox observed: “It is logical to assume that Iran’s intentions are to develop a nuclear weapons capability and any claims that its intentions are exclusively peaceful should not be regarded as credible”.
Dr. Fox dismissed those that had welcomed the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013 as displaying a “fundamental misunderstanding of the structure of Iranian power”, since President Rouhani was destined “only ever to have a limited influence in a state dominated by the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard”.
The senior Conservative condemned Iran’s appalling human right’s record, noting that the country was the world’s leader in executions per capita in 2014 and had “relentlessly” persecuted those who supported the Green Movement.
Dr. Fox asserted: “Iran’s nuclear intentions cannot be seen outside the context of its support for terror proxies, arguably the defining feature of its foreign policy. The risks are clear”.
The failure of the proposed parameters to cover Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which is prohibited under United Nations Security Council resolution 1929, was deemed “inexcusable”, since it was “the final critical-stage component of the weaponisation process”.
He also warned: “The prospect of a nuclear arms race in one of the world’s most unstable regions, where the likelihood of the use of such weapons is probably greatest, should be of concern to us all”.
In his concluding remarks, the former Defence Secretary urged that Iran “must not be allowed to dictate the terms of any final, permanent nuclear agreement; it has not earned the benefit of the doubt”. He called on the P5+1 “not to blink”, since a “bad deal is worse than no deal”.
Nadhim Zahawi MP observed that Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states were “nervous about Iran’s intentions” and noted that Iran was exploiting the Obama administration’s apparent eagerness to secure a deal as a foreign policy legacy.
Alluding to the proposed parameters that will permit Iran to continue research and development into advanced centrifuges, Mr Zahawi observed: “Since the negotiations began, the technology around centrifuges—I declare an interest: my background is in chemical engineering—has advanced so far that a single centrifuge now is much more productive than it was when the negotiations started”.
CFI Deputy Chairman, Andrew Percy MP, expressed his frustration that despite the UK’s leading role in nuclear negotiations, MPs had been given “few opportunities in the House to debate the detail of what is emerging, or even to express our concerns during the negotiation process”.
The MP for Brigg and Goole condemned Iran’s intransigence towards the verification of the so-called ‘possible military dimensions’ and its continued blocking of access to the country’s military sites to allow the IAEA to carry out crucial investigations. He said that as a result, the IAEA is “unable to determine the true extent of Iran’s historical research into nuclear weaponry or properly calculate the breakout time”.
Matthew Offord MP said he was “highly concerned about the deal”, since Iran has proven unwilling and incapable of “demonstrating the exclusively peaceful, civilian nature of its nuclear programme”.
The CFI Officer contended that as a resource rich country, Iran could secure its own domestic energy supply “without resorting to nuclear technology”.
The MP for Hendon drew attention to reports that Iran’s existing Bushehr nuclear plant has “huge safety concerns…associated with its construction, its ageing equipment and under-staffing”. Leaders from Gulf Co-operation Council countries have expressed fears that a serious nuclear accident at the Bushehr plant would spread radiation throughout the region.
Mr Offord proceeded to state that Iran’s quest for nuclear technology was “an overt attempt to challenge the military capabilities of other countries and to establish itself as a presence in the geopolitics of the Middle East”. “Most of all”, Mr Offord warned, “it can be used as a tool to sabotage the Middle East peace process and give advantage to Iran to dictate the terms and destabilise order in the region, especially in countries such as Israel”.
Addressing Iran’s support for terror groups committed to the destruction of Israel, Mr Offord outlined reports that it provides Hezbollah with up to $200 million a year and between 2006 and 2011, it also reportedly financed Hamas with up to $300 million annually.
Neil Parish MP said it was “abominable” that Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon given its support for terrorism and its threats towards Israel and other regional allies.
Rhetorically asking why Iran requires so much enriched uranium for a supposedly peaceful nuclear programme, the MP for Tiverton contended that it wanted to enrich it for non-peaceful purposes. He proceeded to say that a deal lasting 10 years “is just not enough” as it “passes almost in the blink of an eye”.
In closing, Mr Parish asserted: “If we are actually to reduce terrorism in the Middle East and to make the region more secure, we cannot possibly have an Iran with the capability to make a nuclear bomb”.
Tom Tugendhat MP gave an historical context to Iran’s hegemonic aspirations for expansion throughout the region. The newly elected MP said that such aspirations pose the UK Government a “personal, immediate and local question, because the nuclearisation of Iran—were it to happen—would trigger… the nuclearisation of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of which would probably get what they have already paid for: a Pakistani nuclear bomb”. The MP for Tonbridge and Malling continued: “That is an extremely threatening situation not only for us, but for many other friends in the region”.
Mr Tugendhat asserted: “I repeat, that to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons would be anathema to peace for the region, anathema to the civil rights of the society and anathema to our interests”.
Turning to Iran’s support for terrorism against Jews and Israelis, Mr Tugendhat said it posed an international threat: “The reality is that actions in Argentina and Bulgaria, and the murder of Israeli and European citizens in Germany over many years, demonstrate that Iran’s involvement in terrorism is not a foreign matter, but very much a domestic one”.
CFI Deputy Chairman, John Howell MP, expressed his frustration that under the proposed parameters of a final deal Iran would be permitted to operate more than 6,000 centrifuges, and said it was a “bad sign” that the P5+1 had abandoned their original demand that Iran be only permitted 1,000 centrifuges.
Jack Lopresti MP said that the deal risked legitimising certain Iranian nuclear activities “for which there is no civilian use whatsoever”, and identified Iran as “one of the world’s largest—if not the largest—state sponsors of terrorism”.
Rehman Chishti MP said it would be “short-term fix to a long-term problem” for the P5+1 to reach a nuclear agreement with a state that is “harbouring and sponsoring terrorism in Yemen by supporting the Houthi rebels to destabilise the region, as well as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, in addition to supporting Hamas”.
Former Health Minister, Dr. Dan Poulter MP, called on the P5+1 to “future-proof” the agreement “so that improvements in technology, productivity and capacity are taken into account, and sufficient protections are put in place against the future capacity to develop uranium—and, indeed, other harmful technologies”.
Chloe Smith MP spoke of her concern that “Iran remains a premier sponsor of terror”.
Responding to the debate, Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood MP, assured the MPs: “I simply want to make it clear that we are working hard for the deal, but, as has been explained, we need to make sure we reach the correct one. Without the correct deal, we have no deal”.
Mr Ellwood said: “For more than a decade, the Iranian nuclear issue has posed one of the most intractable and persistent threats to international security and stability. The prospect of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran carries severe consequences for the security of the UK, the region and, indeed, the world”.
CFI has been working with Conservative MPs to raise concerns to the Government throughout the duration of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1. Conservative MPs have been actively scrutinising Iran’s nuclear programme using the full range of parliamentary procedures, including Backbench Business Debates, Prime Minister’s Questions, Foreign Office Question sessions, and written parliamentary questions.
In July 2014, Guto Bebb MP was one of six Conservative MPs who co-authored a CFI report urging the British Government to take a tough stance in nuclear negotiations with its P5+1 partners and Iran.
‘Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Securing a Permanent and Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement’, contended that the British Government should push for a permanent and comprehensive nuclear agreement that leaves Iran’s critical nuclear assets significantly reduced and places severe limitations on its ‘breakout’ capability. The report is available here – http://cfoi.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/iranreport.pdf