Mark Hunter calls for no military action in Iran

February 27, 2007 11:00 AM
By Mark Hunter in House of Commons

I would like to thank both the hon member for The Wrekin for securing the opportunity to discuss this matter, and the Minister for attending and engaging so fully in the debate today. This discussion is, of course, particularly timely given the meeting yesterday of the UN Security Council members, and Germany to discuss the possibility of further sanction against Iran.

The sixty day limit on UN security Resolution 1737 expired last week. A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed that Iran has yet to comply with the UN security Resolution 1737 and 1696 to stop all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities and work on all heavy-water related projects, and in fact is expanding the scale of its enrichment programme.

Indeed the Iranian Government is still insisting that its activities are not aggressive and that it has the right to create a system of nuclear energy that does not rely on outside co-operation.

However, Iran's past record of concealment and lack of co-operation with IAEA inspectors paints a worrying picture and supports the UN decision to call for Iran to cease all enrichment activities and to accept full IAEA inspections. There is also the issue that the development of nuclear technology could lead to further nuclear proliferation. If other regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, feel that Iran is arming itself they might feel they need to respond in kind.

Iran's action, in refusing to co-operate with IAEA inspectors and allowing them unrestricted access, in this volatile region and time is not only wrong but is incredibly irresponsible and we condemn them for this. Further nuclear proliferation must be stopped and we should do all we can to discourage such a move.

Iran should not be in any doubt that if they continue to break UN Security Council Resolutions and agreements with the IAEA, that tough sanctions will be imposed. It needs to be aware of the full political, economic and cultural consequences of isolating themselves by ignoring the IAEA and the UN.

It is, however, important that any actions the UK Government employ are backed by the UN, have international support, and are built on international law. The US has placed financial sanction on Iranian banks to inhibit their trading in dollars and US officials have been pressing the EU to put similar measures in place.

European governments are rightly concerned about the legality of imposing sanctions on entities or individuals that are not explicitly named in a Security Council resolution.

The UK and US Governments should not take any actions that are not supported by the UN, and should follow their lead on the sanction that should be imposed in this case. The UK and US cannot afford to further damage their international reputation by acting without the support of the UN and the international community, as they did in the case of Iraq.

There is in particular no role for military sanctions against Iran. Military action will only serve to strengthen the position of hard-line conservative factions and fan nationalism in Iran undermining the prospect of change.

It will further de-stabalise the region by provoking retaliation throughout the Middle East, creating even more bad feeling towards America and the West, and further increasing the divide between East and West.

Military conflict will also place coalition forces at risk, the UK armed forces cannot be stretched further with the current action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it would be irresponsible to enter into another conflict.

The recent US arrests of Iranian officials in Iraq have raised speculation that military conflict could be triggered not only by non-compliance over the nuclear issue, but also by what it perceives to be Iran's destabilising activities in Iraq. On the 26th of this month the New Yorker magazine reported that the Pentagon were given instructions to draw up plans for a bombing campaign for Iran that could be launched at 24 hours notice, while Condeleezza Rice has refused to rule out the use of force in resolving the issues the US has with Iran.

In this situation, the UK Government must make it clear that military action is unthinkable, and should apply the greatest possible pressure on Washington to avoid such an option at all costs.

Continuing threats from the US and elsewhere of the prospects of military action are counter-productive, and only serve to reinforce the position of hardliners in Iran, and could lead to Iranian withdrawal from the (Non-Proliferation Treaty) NPT.

We need to make sure that we continue to engage Iran rather than isolating it. Iran has offered to open unconditional talks with the West but the US has insisted that before such talks can take place Iran must stop their enrichment programme.

Although, and I cannot place too much emphasis on this, Iran should be persuaded in the strongest possible language, both through diplomacy and in economic and political sanctions, to stop its enrichment programme and open its facilities to IAEA inspectors, at this point we need to re-engage with Iran rather than entering into further conflict with it.

In other areas of foreign policy, especially in the negotiations over the regarding Iran the UK's relationship also needs to be one of negotiation. The report from the Iraq Study Group called for the US to create an Iraq International Support Group, which would include Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria as well as other key actors.

Iran's past relationship with Iraq gives its significant power there, many of Iraq's Shia politicians have longstanding ties to Iran from their time in exile during the Saddam Hussein era and Iran has provided military and political support for Shiite militias and for Shia parties.

However Iran has recently shown signs that it is willing to engage in talks over a peaceful and stable settlement for Iraq.

The Independent reported on 30th of November this year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran invited the presidents of Iraq and Syria to Tehran this week for a summit on Iraq, it also stated quite rightly that if these negotiations could be linked with an Iraq International Support Group, then the 'way would be opened for a whole Middle East strategy'.

It is, however the US and the UK Government that is stalling on involving both Syria and Iran in vital discussions about the future of Iraq.

I am not for a moment trying to play down the difficulties of such an involvement, especially considering the current tensions over Iran's Nuclear programme, however, negotiations with Iran are key to stablising both Iraq and the wider Middle East region.

I realise that this proposal has been controversial, but without engaging in diplomatic dialogue with both Iran and Syria without preconditions a peaceful conclusion to the Iraq war cannot be reached and a broader peace initiative in the region will fail.

The devastating effects of the conflict in Lebanon last summer, the on-going bloodshed in Iraq, and the fear of nuclear escalation, if nothing else, show us the vital importance of getting the Middle East countries around the negotiating table. This must happen, and it must happen soon.

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