27th February 2007
In a debate about how to involve Iran in the international community, recognise its right to develop nuclear energy and make it comply with UN resolutions, Keith Simpson calls for disinvestment as a way to have an immediate effect on the Iranian regime.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) for introducing the debate, and for his demonstration of a classical education. At one stage, I thought of a variation on the old Monty Python joke: if only I had had the Persian, I too could have been a Tory Back-Bench MP. He has shown a knowledge of history, and he rightly emphasised the fact that the Iranian people are a proud and sophisticated people with a long history.
All Members from all parties have addressed the core element of the debate: how we can involve Iran in the international community, recognise its right to develop nuclear energy if it wishes and make it comply with the resolutions of the United Nations, and not only those of the United States of America, Israel and the United Kingdom, that it should not develop nuclear weapons. That is not easy. For some time now, I have taken the view that the bulk of the Iranian people in Iran, and maybe even the bulk of Iranian exiles, believe that Iran has a right to develop nuclear weapons. It is not only the regime that believes that.
We also need to think about what will happen if the Iranian regime manages, by dividing the members of the UN Security Council and by prevarication, to reach a stage at which one or more powers-hon. Members have fearfully pointed this out-decide that the UN's route has failed and that they will take unilateral military action, as they are entitled to do if they believe that their security is threatened. Do we have a plan B to deal with such a situation? Do we have a plan to deal with circumstances in which that had not occurred but Iran had merely obtained nuclear weapons? If that were to occur, we would have to consider a number of factors, not least the fact that if the Israeli Government decide not to use the military option, they will certainly, if they have not done so already, develop a second strike capability. We know already that many other regional powers have intimated that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons they too will go down that path, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others. That will cause a vast escalation of the problem, and I do not think that the Iranian Government has thought that through. There are no particularly easy answers to the question. However, although I, too, do not wish to emphasise the bellicose military threat against the Iranian regime, neither should we say that it is an impossibility.
The line that successive Labour and Conservative Governments took during the cold war-they never talked about the use of military force of any kind against the Warsaw pact, but it was always known to be an option-is a powerful diplomatic tool that must remain on the table. We should remember that however much we do not wish it to occur-and it might not do so-the United Nations, through the Security Council, can ultimately authorise military force. We should bear that in mind when it comes to the signals that we wish to send to the United Nations.
There is no doubt that over the past two or three years the Iranian Government have defied the UN. I am not saying that they have defied the United States of America, Israel or the United Kingdom, but they have defied the UN in such a way that countries such as Russia and China, which tended to be sympathetic to Iran's position, have been driven in anger and fury into supporting the sort of proposals put forward by other members of the UN.
We should take a robust line through the United Nations, one that does not rule out the possibility that the Iranian Government would have to face a military option under the UN. It should be done in such a way that it persuades the Iranian Government that they are defying world opinion, as many hon. Members have said. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, we should think of changing the behaviour rather than the regime. UN sanctions should be aimed at bringing pressure to bear upon the regime rather than on the bulk of the Iranian people.
One specific area that I wish to emphasise to the Minister is that disinvestment will have an almost an immediate effect on the Iranian regime. The USA has started disinvestment in a limited way, as have we. For example, I understand that the governor of California has put pressure on international banks by threatening to withdraw Californian investments from those involved with financial support of the Iranian regime. California's withdrawing its investments is an attention grabber. I believe that, in the short term, that is the best way to grab the attention of the Iranian regime. My question to the Minister is: what specific measures are the Government taking, and what pressure are we bringing to bear on members states of the European Union? There is no doubt that certain EU countries with investments in Iran are not taking such action. If they want to prevent us from going down the more military line, they should take that very much to heart.
This has been a useful debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.