Mr Speaker, two weeks ago I reported to the House on the Iranian nuclear negotiations in Geneva between 8th and 10th November.
I explained that our aim was to produce an interim first step agreement with Iran, that could then create the confidence and time to negotiate a comprehensive and final settlement addressing all concerns about its nuclear programme.
We have always been clear that because Iran’s programme is so extensive and crucial aspects of it have been concealed in the past, any agreement would have to be detailed and give assurance to the whole world that the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran would be properly addressed.
I said that we believed that such a deal was on the table, and that we would do our utmost to bridge the narrow gaps between the parties and conclude a strong agreement.
On Wednesday last week the E3+3 and Iranian negotiators resumed their work in Geneva, and on Saturday morning I and the other E3+3 Foreign Ministers joined the talks.
At 4am yesterday we concluded the negotiations successfully, agreeing a thorough and detailed first-stage agreement with Iran which is a significant step towards enhancing the security of the Middle East and preventing nuclear proliferation worldwide.
In this statement I will cover the extensive commitments that Iran has made, the sanctions relief that it has been offered in return, and the steps we will now take to implement and build on what was agreed.
First, we have agreed a Joint Plan of Action with Iran, with the end goal of comprehensive settlement that ensures its nuclear programme will be for exclusively peaceful purposes.
The agreement has a duration of six months, renewable by mutual consent, and it sets out actions to be taken by both sides as a first step, as well as the elements to be negotiated in a final comprehensive settlement.
I have placed a copy of the agreement in the Library of the House, but I wish now to highlight its most important aspects.
Iran has made a number of very significant commitments. Over the next six months Iran will cease enriching uranium above 5%, the level beyond which it becomes much easier to produce weapons grade uranium. Furthermore it has undertaken to eradicate its stockpile of the most concerning form of uranium enriched above 5%, by diluting half of it to a level of less than 5%, and converting the remaining half to oxide.
Iran will not install further centrifuges in its nuclear facilities or start operating installed centrifuges that have not yet been switched on. It will only replace existing centrifuges with centrifuges of the same type, and only produce centrifuges to replace damaged existing machines, on a like-for-like basis. In other words, Iran will not install or bring into operation advanced centrifuges that could enable it to produce a dangerous level of enriched uranium more quickly.
Iran will cap its stockpile of up to 5% enriched uranium in the highest risk UF6 form, by converting any newly-enriched uranium into oxide; and it will not set up any new locations for enrichment, or establish a reprocessing or reconversion facility.
Iran has agreed enhanced monitoring of its nuclear programme going beyond existing IAEA inspections in Iran, including access to centrifuge assembly workshops and to uranium mines and mills. Iran will also provide the IAEA with additional information, including about its plans for nuclear facilities.
At the Heavy Water Research Reactor at Arak – which offers Iran a potential route to a nuclear weapon through the production of plutonium rather than uranium – Iran will not commission the reactor, or transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor site, or test additional fuel, or produce more fuel for the reactor, or install any remaining components in the reactor.
Mr Speaker, this agreement means that the elements of Iran’s nuclear programme that are thought to present the greatest risk cannot make progress during the period of the interim agreement. In other words, if Iran implements the deal in good faith as it has undertaken to do, it cannot use these routes to move closer towards obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.
Moreover, some of the most dangerous elements of Iran’s programme are not only frozen, but actually rolled back - for instance the agreement involves the eradication of around 200 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium that Iran has been building up and stockpiling for several years.
Second, in return for these commitments Iran will receive proportionate, limited sanctions relief from the US and EU.
For its part, the United States will pause efforts to reduce crude oil sales to Iran’s oil customers, repatriate to Iran some of its oil revenue held abroad, suspend sanctions on the Iranian auto industry, allow licensing of safety-related repairs and inspections for certain Iranian airlines, and establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian and legitimate trade, including for payments to international organisations and for Iranians studying abroad.
It is proposed that the EU and US together will suspend sanctions on oil-related insurance and transport costs, which will allow the provision of such services to third states for the import of Iranian oil. We will also suspend the prohibition of the import, purchase or transport of Iranian petrochemical products, and suspend sanctions on Iranian imports of gold and precious metals. But core sanctions on Iranian oil and gas will remain in place.
It is intended that the EU will also increase by an agreed amount the authorisation thresholds for financial transactions for humanitarian and non-sanctioned trade with Iran. The Council of Ministers of the European Union will be asked to adopt legislation necessary to amend these sanctions, and the new provisions would then apply to all EU member states. The total value of the sanctions relief is estimated at $7 billion over the six-month period.
There will be no new nuclear-related sanctions adopted by the UN, EU and US during this six-month period. However the bulk of international sanctions on Iran will remain in place.
This includes the EU and US oil embargo which restricts globally oil purchases from Iran, and sanctions on nuclear, militarily or ballistic missile related goods and technology. It includes all frozen revenue and foreign exchange reserves held in accounts outside of Iran and sanctions on many Iranian banks, such as the Central Bank of Iran, which means that all Iranian assets in the US and EU remain frozen apart from the limited repatriation of revenue agreed under this agreement. Iranian leaders and key individuals and entities will still have their assets in the EU and US frozen and be banned from travelling to the EU and US, and tough financial measures, including a ban from using financial messaging services and transactions with European and US banks, also remain in place.
These sanctions will not be lifted until a comprehensive settlement is reached, and we will enforce them robustly. This ensures that Iran still has a powerful incentive to reach a comprehensive solution – which is the third aspect of the agreement on which I wish to update the House on today.
The agreement sets out the elements of a comprehensive solution, which we would aim to conclude within one year. These elements include Iran’s rights and obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards; the full resolution of concerns related to the Heavy Water Research Reactor at Arak; agreed transparency and monitoring including the Additional Protocol; and cooperation on Iran’s civilian nuclear programme.
In return for full confidence by the international community that Iran’s programme is solely peaceful, the Plan of Action envisages a mutually defined enrichment programme with agreed parameters and limits, but only as part of a comprehensive agreement where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
This comprehensive solution, if and when agreed, would lead to the lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Mr Speaker, reaching this interim agreement was a difficult and painstaking process, and there is a huge amount of work to be done to implement it. Implementation will begin following technical discussions with Iran and the IAEA and EU preparations to suspend the relevant sanctions, which we hope will all be concluded by the end of January. A Joint Commission of the E3+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of these first-step measures, and it will work with the IAEA to resolve outstanding issues.
But the fact that we have achieved for the first time in nearly a decade an agreement that halts and rolls back Iran’s nuclear programme, should give us heart that this work can be done and that a comprehensive agreement can be attained.
On an issue of such complexity, and given the fact that to make any diplomatic agreement worthwhile to both sides it has to involve compromises, such an agreement is bound to have its critics and opponents.
But we are right to test to the full Iran’s readiness to act in good faith, to work with the rest of the international community and to enter into international agreements.
If they do not abide by their commitments they will bear a heavy responsibility, but if we did not take the opportunity to attempt such an agreement then we ourselves would be guilty of a grave error.
It is true that if we did not have this agreement the pressure of sanctions on Iran would not be alleviated at all. But it is also true that there would be no restraint on advances to their programme: no check on their enrichment activity and stockpiles, no block on their addition of centrifuges, no barrier to prevent them bringing into operation their Heavy Water Reactor at Arak, and no limitation on the many actions which could take them closer to a nuclear weapons’ capability.
The bringing together of this agreement with all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council united behind it, in itself sends a powerful signal.
So while it is only a beginning, there is no doubt that this is an important, necessary and completely justified step, which through its restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme gives us the time to negotiate a comprehensive settlement. And I pay tribute to Baroness Ashton, to my Foreign Minister colleagues, and to our Foreign Office staff who played an indispensable role.
We will apply the same rigour and determination we have shown in these negotiations to the implementation of the agreement, and to the search for a comprehensive settlement.
At the same time we will continue to be open to improvements in our bilateral relationship on a step-by-step and reciprocal basis, and our new Chargé d’Affaires will visit Iran shortly.
This agreement has shown that the combination of pressure expressed through sanctions coupled with a readiness to negotiate is the right policy.
For a long time this has been the united approach of this country, from the efforts of the Rt Hon Member for Blackburn to pursue negotiations a decade ago, to the cross-party support in this House for the wide-ranging sanctions we have adopted in recent years. We have been steadfast in pursuing this twin-track policy and seeking a peaceful solution. This agreement is true to that approach and that sheer persistence in Britain and among our allies. And this will remain our policy over the coming months as we build on and implement this first step on the long journey to making the Middle East – and the whole world - safer from nuclear proliferation.