Author Topic: Iran - John Baron motion in Parliament  (Read 1483 times)

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Iran - John Baron motion in Parliament
« on: February 22, 2012, 02:16:18 PM »
Iran
John Bercow (Speaker): Because of the level of interest in speaking in this debate, I have imposed an eight-minute limit on most Back-Bench contributions. That does not apply to Mr Baron, who is opening the debate. He will be aware of his time limit, to which I know he will faithfully adhere.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c635)

4:59 pm
John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): I beg to move,
That this House
believes that the use of force against Iran would be wholly counterproductive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons;
and calls upon the Government to rule out the use of force against Iran and reduce tensions by redoubling diplomatic efforts.
May I start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for supporting my application to debate this subject today? Statements by the Government allow opportunities to ask a question, but rarely allow a thorough examination of the issue. I also thank those Members who supported me in calling for this debate. Many did not agree with the motion, but all felt that such a debate was long overdue, as is borne out by the number of people who have put in to speak this evening.
The debate is urgently required. With tough new sanctions in place and further ones threatened by Iran, with naval forces mustering in the Persian gulf and with state-sponsored terrorism ongoing inside and outside Iran, this might be the only opportunity for Back Benchers to discuss the topic before hostilities begin. Israel is contemplating an air strike, and we could be on the brink of a regional war. I called for today’s debate because I believe that we need a fresh approach. The sanctions and the sabre-rattling are yesterday’s failed policies, and the fact that we are once again on the brink of military conflict is testament to that failure. My motion calls on the Government—and, by implication, the west—to rule out the use of force in order to reduce tensions and bring us back from the brink of war and military conflict, and to redouble diplomatic efforts. That would give us time to reflect on some of the inconvenient truths that the west chooses to ignore, and on the need for a fresh approach.
I shall start by outlining some of the inconvenient truths. The catalyst for the latest round of condemnation was the report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency last November. The United States and the United Kingdom chose to see the report as evidence that Iran was building nuclear weapons, and further financial sanctions followed, which led directly to the storming of the British embassy in Tehran, inexcusable though that was. We should be careful about accepting such reports at face value, however. Close reading of the report reveals no smoking gun: there is no evidence of attempts to produce nuclear weapons, or of a decision to do so.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c635)

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative): Will my hon. Friend give way?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c635)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): I want to make some progress, then I will try to accommodate all colleagues who wish to intervene.
The fact that there is no evidence of attempts to produce nuclear weapons or of a decision to do so was confirmed by Peter Jenkins, the UK’s former permanent representative to the IAEA. Robert Kelley, a former director of the agency, highlighted the fact that the report contained only three items that referred to developments after 2004—the year in which the American intelligence services concluded that Iran had ceased its nuclear programme. Indeed, the agency spends 96% of a 14-page annexe reprising what was already known. I therefore ask the Foreign Secretary to highlight for the House today the paragraphs in the report that provide evidence of a nuclear weapons programme. He has referred to this matter many times, but I can see no such evidence in the report. Is he willing to highlight those paragraphs for the benefit of the House now? I am willing to take an intervention from him.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative): Will my hon. Friend give way?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): I shall just wait for the Foreign Secretary. His silence speaks volumes. I shall therefore take an intervention from my hon. Friend.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way—
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

John Bercow
John Bercow (Speaker): Order. We cannot have two Members standing up at the same time. Mr Baron is perfectly tall enough. We can see him; he has nothing to worry about.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is he aware that paragraph 43 of the IAEA report states that Iran worked
“on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components”?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): Yes, I am aware of that, but it is not concrete evidence; it is circumstantial—
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

Martin Horwood
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat): rose —
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): I will take and answer one intervention at a time, if I may.
We need to be careful when considering the report. Much has been made of the circumstantial evidence and of western intelligence reports, but Iraq should have taught us to be careful about basing our foreign policy decisions on secret intelligence and circumstantial evidence. That is a lesson that we should have learned from Iraq.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

Martin Horwood
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat): Another section of the report talks about the
“acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network”.
It concludes that:
“While some of the activities identified in the Annex have civilian as well as military applications, others are specific to nuclear weapons.”
How else are we to interpret that?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c636)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): That does not answer the actual question. That is circumstantial evidence; it is not concrete evidence of a nuclear weapons programme. It is as straightforward as that. I challenge the hon. Gentleman who asked the question: if he could point to concrete evidence, it would be useful for the House.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c637)

Alec Shelbrooke
Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell, Conservative): Will my hon. Friend outline when in his view circumstantial evidence becomes actual evidence—it is when the bomb has dropped, for example?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c637)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): It is very straightforward. There has to be evidence of nuclear weapons. We were told, for example, that there was no shortage of circumstantial evidence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but it turned out that there were no WMD there. That shows how careful we need to be and how clear we need to be about the difference between circumstantial evidence and concrete evidence.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c637)

Paul Flynn
Paul Flynn (Newport West, Labour): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any IAEA evidence on Israel’s nuclear weapons programme?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c637)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In certain quarters in the middle east, it is felt that double standards are being applied in that Israel has developed nuclear weapons and the west does not seem to worry about them. [Interruption.] My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggests that the evidence is circumstantial, and I am willing to grant him that point.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c637)

Stewart Jackson
Stewart Jackson (Peterborough, Conservative): Can my hon. Friend name any experts in the field who would explain how enrichment to a 20% threshold, currently being undertaken by the Iranian regime, could plausibly be for civilian and not military use?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c637)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): My hon. Friend makes a fair point, which I will address later in my speech, but I say to him now that there is a world of difference between nuclear capability and actually having nuclear weapons. I am sure that the House would accept that difference.
A second inconvenient truth relates to the usual depiction of Iran as intransigent and for ever chauvinistic in her foreign policy. Western Governments, I suggest, too easily forget that Iran is not totally at fault here. There have been opportunities to better relations between Iran and the west, but the west has spurned those opportunities. We forget, for example, that following 9/11, Iran—unlike many in the middle east street—expressed solidarity with the US. We forget also that attempts were made to develop contacts during the early stages of the Afghan war. What was Iran’s reward? It was to be labelled or declared part of the “axis of evil” by President Bush, which led directly to the removal of the reformist and moderate President Khatami. Despite that, there were further attempts at co-operation in the run-up to the Iraq war, but those efforts were similarly rebuffed.
Again, I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he is prepared to deny that the west has made mistakes in its dealings with Iran and has missed opportunities to better relations. I would genuinely like to hear his views on that and would welcome an intervention.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c637)

Mike Gapes
Mike Gapes (Ilford South, Labour): rose —
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c638)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): If I am not going to get an intervention from the Foreign Secretary, I shall take one from the Labour Back Benches.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c638)

Mike Gapes
Mike Gapes (Ilford South, Labour): I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman refers to lost opportunities. Does he agree that the Iranian regime was at fault in rejecting President Obama’s initiative when he first came to office? Is that not a sign that the regime in Tehran is afraid of international engagement and is pursuing this course relentlessly?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c638)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): I am the first to agree that Iran was completely wrong on President Obama’s offer. Let me make it clear that I am not an apologist for Iran. No one can agree with its human rights record, its sponsoring of state terrorism or the storming of our embassy—all are terribly wrong—but they are not arguments for military intervention; they do not justify war. Rather, I suggest that no one’s hands are clean in this region, including our own, particularly after the invasion of Iraq on what turned out to be a false premise. Opportunities have been missed on both sides. I would have thought there can be little doubt about that.
Let us get to the nub of the issue and think the unthinkable. Let us assume, despite the lack of substantive evidence, that Iran is moving towards the option of nuclear capability. Hon. Members will be fully aware that there is a world of difference between nuclear capability and possessing nuclear weapons. This is perhaps understandable. We in the west underestimate the extent to which status is important in that part of the world. The reason Saddam Hussein did not deny possessing weapons of mass destruction, despite the fact that he did not have them, was that it was in his interest not to deny it. He had, after all, failed in his invasion of Iran. Iran’s insecurity is also understandable. Those who view the map from Tehran’s point of view will see that she is surrounded by nuclear powers: Russia, Pakistan, a United States naval presence, and Israel. All those powers contribute to Iran’s feeling of encirclement.
I am very conscious, as the House will be, of the argument that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, that will lead to a nuclear arms race in the region but without the safety mechanisms that existed during the cold war, which in itself could lead to a nuclear escalation. However, I do not accept that argument. There is no reason why the theory of nuclear deterrence to which the west adheres should not be equally valid in other parts and regions of the world. Paul Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the middle east between 2000 and 2005, recently wrote that there was
“nothing in the record of behavior by the Islamic Republic that suggests irrationality”.
That view was reinforced by Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, last year.
India and Pakistan have fought wars, yet both have shown nuclear restraint. As the House is well aware, only one country has ever used nuclear weapons in anger. Furthermore, the view that an Iranian nuclear capability would start a nuclear arms race in the region does not take into account the possibility that regional allies of the west will opt to shelter under a US nuclear umbrella. That happens in Japan and in South Korea.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c638)

Stephen McCabe
Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour): I am afraid that this is sounding terribly like an appeasement argument. If the hon. Gentleman does not wish his position to be characterised as such, will he say something about what the western powers should do to support legitimate protest in Iran by the people who are pushing for regime change, whom we have supported in other countries and whom we should support in this instance?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c639)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient. I promise to deal directly with that later in my speech.
At this point, many invoke President Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be wiped off the face of the map. Surely, they say, that is proof of irrationality; surely that is evidence that Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. However, a careful examination of the translation suggests that President Ahmadinejad was badly misquoted. Even The New York Times, one of the first outlets to misquote Ahmadinejad, now accepts that the word “map” was never used. A more accurate translation offers
“the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”.
Given that Ahmadinejad compared his desired option—the elimination of “the regime occupying Jerusalem”—with the fall of the Shah’s regime in Iran, it is quite clear that he was talking about regime change and not about the destruction of Israel itself, just as he did not want the end of Iran in his comparison. The pedantry over the translation is important. Some Members may scoff, but this is a terribly important point. The immediate reaction to Ahmadinejad’s speech in 2005 was the then Israeli Prime Minister’s call for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations, and the US urging its allies to “get tougher” on Iran.
That mistranslation is used to this day, even by former Foreign Secretaries outside the House. I wonder why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not provided more clarity on the point. I hope that it is not to do with a hidden agenda. Perhaps it is to do with a shortage of properly qualified Farsi speakers, but we would appreciate clarity from the Foreign Secretary in due course. I ask him to tell us whether he denies at least the possibility that President Ahmadinejad was misquoted.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c639)

Louise Ellman
Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside, Labour): If the hon. Gentleman is so dismissive of Iran’s statement that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, can he explain why, in February 2011, Ayatollah Khamenei repeated the statement that Israel was a “cancerous tumour” that must be removed?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c639)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I must say that we need to examine these statements very carefully, because that translation too is open to dispute. It is all very well coming to the House with these translations, but Farsi is a complex language, as she will know, and we have to make sure that we get them right. Many scholars outside this place verify that President Ahmadinejad’s original statement was misquoted—theses have been written about it—which is why I ask the Foreign Secretary to clarify the situation. We need to get this quote clarified.
There can be little doubt that the west’s policy of sabre-rattling and sanctions has failed; the Iranians are not going to back down on their nuclear programme.
Mr Mousavi, the unofficial leader of the green movement and one of the great hopes of the west, said during the 2009 presidential campaign that any backtracking on the nuclear issue would be tantamount to surrender. Iran’s statement that it is introducing an oil embargo for certain countries shows that it is impervious to sabre-rattling, yet we in the west still pursue that policy when confronting Iran. Indeed it is considered “naive”—I have heard that word used a lot—to rule out the use of force. We are told that all options must be left on the table. Some people go further: there seems to be a hairshirt auction among Republican candidates for the presidential nomination in America as to who can be toughest on Iran, with Mitt Romney openly advocating war over the nuclear issue. I would counter that by saying that what is naive is pursuing a policy that has clearly failed. Sanctions and sabre-rattling are yesterday’s policies and they have brought us to the brink of a military conflict, which is hardly the sign of success.
What compounds the error of that approach is that most agree that a military strike would be counter-productive to the point of being calamitous. It would reinforce the position of the hard-liners at the expense of the pragmatists within Iran, just as the Iran-Iraq war boosted patriotic support for the regime and helped to cement the revolution. Military intervention would not work; the US Defence Secretary judges that it would delay the Iranians for only a year at most. Knowledge cannot be eradicated by military intervention, and such intervention will only delay the inevitable. If Iran has set herself on acquiring nuclear weapons, she will not be scared away; and if she has not, a military strike would encourage her to do so. We even hear voices from within Israel against a strike. Meir Dagan, the hard-line former chief of Mossad—nobody could accuse him of being a pussycat—has referred to an attack on Iran as “a stupid idea.”
I ask hon. Members to reflect on a wider historical point. It is perhaps relevant to reflect more generally that military action often has an embedding effect: it reinforces the position of the existing regime. For example, communism has lasted longest in those countries where the west intervened militarily—North Korea, China, Cuba and Vietnam.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c639)

Edward Leigh
Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Conservative): My hon. Friend talks about the verdict of history. Is the verdict of history not also that when dealing with tyrannies it is unwise to rule out force in defence, and that sometimes it is wise to keep tyrannies guessing as to one’s intentions?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c640)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): Yes, although I suggest an exception: keeping an option on the table that heightens tensions and makes a peaceful outcome less likely is less worthy, and we have to examine that position.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c640)

Alec Shelbrooke
Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell, Conservative): Will my hon. Friend give way?
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c640)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): No, I am going to make a little progress.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c640)

Nigel Evans
Nigel Evans (Deputy Speaker; Ribble Valley, Conservative): Order. May I remind Mr Baron that he has already taken 20 minutes? This is an over-subscribed debate, and we will impose an eight-minute limit on speeches after the Front-Bench contributions. He would be generous to his colleagues if he began to draw his remarks to close.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c640)

John Baron
John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative): I very much take that on board, Mr Deputy Speaker. If hon. Members will forgive me, I will not accept any more interventions.
A strike by Israel or the west would unite Iran in fury and perhaps trigger a regional war, and it would certainly encourage the hard-liners to push for a bomb. Despite that, the present policy is to refuse to rule out the use of force. Such a policy is not only naive, but illogical: we are keeping an option that we all know would be a disaster, against a country that chooses to ignore it, yet that option heightens tensions and makes a peaceful outcome less likely. That is nonsense.
A fresh approach is required. Israel will not attack Iran if Washington objects. Now is the time for the US to make it clear to Israel that force should not be used. Ruling out the use of force would have the immediate effect of reducing tensions and making conflict less likely. That would lessen the chance of another accident like the shooting down of Iran Air 655, which could spark conflict. Such a policy in the longer term would give diplomacy a greater chance of success. Iran will not be persuaded to give up her pursuit of nuclear technology. We need to understand and engage better with Iran, and offer the prospect of implicit recognition of Iran’s status as a major power in the region—a status we created ourselves through our misguided invasion of Iraq, which fundamentally altered the balance of power in the region.
There is a precedent for recognising that new status. In the 1960s, when the US presence in Asia was waning and China was beginning to flex her muscles, Nixon did not respond by denying the reality of Chinese power. His visit to China in 1972 took everyone by surprise, but it was the right decision—it was a defining moment. I suggest that the US needs to realise that this is one of those defining moments, which needs to be seized.
Israel and Iran are two proud nations but they are perhaps uncertain about the best course of action. The US needs to put behind it the underlying antagonism towards Iran that defines this crisis. That will not be easy, but speaking as an ally of the US, too often in the past the US approach has been to overwhelm an issue rather than to solve it. This is not one of those occasions.
In conclusion, the US needs to adopt a wider perspective: it needs to make it clear that an Israeli attack would be unacceptable, and then to engage better with Iran. That would be in Israel’s long-term interests. No one is suggesting it is an easy option, particularly given the presidential elections in both countries, but without it discussions on Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and a host of other issues will remain needlessly difficult. The west underestimates the opportunity to influence Iran. She is a state in transition, with multiple centres of authority and constant power struggles. The challenge for the west is to influence those internal debates and struggles. Crude threats of military intervention and sanctions, along with talk of regime change, only reinforce the hard-liners’ position.
We need a better understanding of what makes Iran tick. We need to better understand the culture, the people, the history, the religion—the British Museum’s current Hajj exhibition is a well worth a visit. We need to renounce the option of a military strike and go the extra mile for peace. War should always, I remind the House, be the measure of last resort, to be used when all other avenues have been exhausted. We have not reached
that point with Iran. As such, it is my intention to test the will of Parliament by dividing the House on the motion tonight.
(Citation: HC Deb, 20 February 2012, c641)