On 24 November last year, the world woke up to the news that a deal had been reached between the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus one—the UK, the US, France, China, Russia and Germany—and Iran. A joint plan of action was the outcome of weeks of hard negotiation. The deal was revealed to be the fruit of years of US-Iran secret negotiations, alongside a decade of public Iranian diplomacy following the revelation of a wide-scale uranium enrichment programme. The P5 plus 1 countries and Iran concluded an interim six-month agreement, known as a joint plan of action, to restrain Iran’s nuclear programme, in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The deal is the interim first step towards a full agreement within six months to address comprehensively the international community’s long-held concerns that Iran’s nuclear programme is intended for military purposes. The agreement will be in effect for six months—it started on 20 January this year—during which time the P5 plus 1 powers will attempt to forge a conclusive, final-status agreement that will end the nuclear impasse.
The Debate was timely, coming just days after a Statement by the Foreign Secretary on the subject of Iran. During the Debate Matthew put three specific questions of the Foreign Office:
Firstly, how Iran’s nuclear programme, which includes a military dimension, will be addressed, as the interim agreement fails to address this area.
Secondly, what reassurances would be sought that the final agreement will address the technical aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme including the dismantling of all existing advanced centrifuges, whether the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will be granted access to all Iran’s nuclear facilities, and what will happen to Iran’s existing stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium.
Thirdly, what assurances the Government could give that the interim agreement will not simply unravel the international sanctions that have been imposed on Iran allowing them to inflame tensions in the whole middle east, but specifically in Lebanon, Syria and Israel.
In response to Matthew's speech, Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said that he agreed that the interim deal does not resolve suspicion but buys the West time to move toward further discussions on the issues under consideration. The Minister also clarified that the Government will not agree a deal if it does not address concerns about nuclear proliferation. The Minister went on to say he felt the lifting of sanctions was a small part of the total sanctions imposed and was proportionate in return for the eradication of the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, a ban on installing further centrifuges (which is different from developing them) and and easing of the monitoring regime carried out by the IAEA.
The Minister agreed with Matthew on the issue of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme and that they are not addressed in the interim agreement. Mr Robertson went on the say that resolution of this area is a key part of the final negotiations that will take place so they will be addressed. "Indeed, the joint plan of action makes it clear that the joint commission, composed of the E3 plus 3 and Iran, will work with the IAEA to facilitate the resolution of all those issues", said the Minister.
Matthew said: "While I accept the need to enter into a Joint Agreement with Iran, concerns remain. The agreement does not resolve international suspicions but merely suspends some of the most immediately concerning aspects of Iran’s programme, pending a more comprehensive agreement. The agreement allows Iran to continue enriching uranium and retain all the centrifuges, and it is not required to dismantle the uncompleted heavy water research reactor at Arak, which has the potential to produce plutonium when completed. In effect, the agreement allows a plan B route for nuclear weapons in that country. The debate came at an opportune time and allowed me to question the Government on their objectives for the final agreement and clarify their position on concerns. As such, I will be awaiting information on progress in the next few months and confirmation of the deadline for the final agreement."
The full debate can be read here: