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EU sanctions on Iran and the threat from Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz

Foreign Secretary William Hague's response to an urgent question in Parliament on Iran.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

“Mr Speaker, yesterday I attended the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels where Members States agreed a new and unprecedented set of sanctions against Iran.

These include a phased oil embargo, a partial asset freeze of the Central Bank of Iran, measures against Iran’s petrochemical sector, and a ban on Iranian transactions involving gold.

This is a major increase in the peaceful, legitimate pressure on Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear programme.

It follows the financial measures the United Kingdom imposed on the 21st November and the widening of EU measures on the 1st December. Sanctions measures, often close to those of the European Union, have been adopted by the United States, Canada, South Korea, Norway, Switzerland and Japan. These are in addition to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council itself.

At our joint press conference this morning, the Australian Foreign Minister announced that his country will replicate these new EU sanctions and we will urge other nations around the world to do the same.

Iran is in defiance of six UN Security Council Resolutions that call on it to suspend its uranium enrichment programme and to enter into negotiations.

Its recent decision to enrich uranium to 20% at an underground site at Qom, demonstrates the urgent need to intensify diplomatic pressure on Iran to return to negotiations. This is a programme that has no plausible civilian use and which Iran tried to keep secret.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed serious concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme and Iran is now in breach of 11 resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Sanctions are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Our objective remains a diplomatic solution that gives the world confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes. We are ready to talk at any point, if Iran puts aside its preconditions and returns to negotiations.

Iranian Vice President Rahimi was reported as saying in December that “if sanctions are adopted against Iranian oil, not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz”. However it must be borne in mind that 95% of Iran’s oil exports, representing over 80% of its foreign earnings, transit the Strait of Hormuz. It is very much against Iran’s interests to seek to close the Strait to oil exports.

Britain maintains a constant presence in the region as part of our enduring contribution to Gulf security. The Royal Navy has been conducting such patrols since 1980.

At the weekend HMS Argyll and a French vessel joined a U.S. carrier group transiting through the Strait of Hormuz. This was a routine movement but it underlined the unwavering international commitment to maintaining rights of passage under international law. Any attempt by Iran to block the Strait would be both illegal and unsuccessful.

We call on Iran to answer the questions raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to adhere to UN Security Council Resolutions, to suspend its enrichment programme, and to return to the negotiations which are the only way of reaching a peaceful and long term settlement to their dispute with the international community.”

Published 24 January 2012