9th May 2018

Sir Nicholas’s Question to the Foreign Secretary following his Statement on the Iran Nuclear Deal.

There is no doubt that Iranian interference in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere is a legitimate cause for concern, but does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very poor decision by the President, which flies in the face of the advice of his own people and of America’s most loyal allies? In trying to sustain this agreement, will he work to ensure that the inspection regime—which is, at the end of the day, the crown jewels of the agreement—will still apply?

Yes, of course we will work to ensure that the inspection regime continues. I think there have been about 400 inspections since the JCPOA began, and they have all found that Iran was in compliance. As I have said, it is now up to the United States come forward with a plan, and if it has military options, frankly I have yet to see them.

Volume 640
No 135
Col 685


Statement by the Foreign Secretary on the Iran Nuclear Deal

House of Commons

Wednesday 9th May 2018


The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, officially known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.

The Government regret the decision of the United States Administration to withdraw from the deal and reimpose American sanctions on Iran. We did our utmost to prevent this outcome: from the moment that President Trump’s Administration took office, we made the case for keeping the JCPOA at every level. Last Sunday, I travelled to Washington and repeated this country’s support for the nuclear agreement in meetings with Secretary of State Pompeo, Vice-President Pence, national security adviser Bolton and others, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Trump last Saturday.

The US decision makes no difference to the British assessment that the constraints imposed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the JCPOA remain vital for our national security and the stability of the middle east. Under the agreement, Iran has relinquished 95% of its low-enriched uranium, placed two thirds of its centrifuges in storage, removed the core of its heavy water reactor—thus closing off the plutonium route to a bomb—and allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to mount the most intrusive and rigorous inspection regime ever devised, an obligation on Iran that lasts until 2040. The House should not underestimate the impact of those measures. The interval needed for Iran to make enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb is known as the breakout time. Under the deal, Iran’s breakout time has trebled, or even quadrupled, from a few months to at least a year, and the plutonium pathway to a weapon has been blocked completely.

For as long as Iran abides by the agreement—and the IAEA has publicly reported its compliance nine times so far—Britain will remain a party to the JCPOA. I remind the House that the JCPOA is an international agreement, painstakingly negotiated over 13 years under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and enshrined in United Nations resolution 2231. Britain has no intention of walking away; instead, we will co-operate with the other parties to ensure that while Iran continues to restrict its nuclear programme, its people will benefit from sanctions relief in accordance with the central bargain of the deal. I cannot yet go into detail about the steps that we propose to take, but I hope to make that information available as soon as possible, and I spoke yesterday to my French and German counterparts.

In his statement on 12 January, President Trump highlighted important limitations of the JCPOA, including the fact that some constraints on Iran’s nuclear capacity will expire in 2025. Britain worked alongside France and Germany to find a way forward that would have addressed the President’s concerns and allowed the US to stay in the JCPOA, but without reopening the terms of the agreement. I still believe that that would have been the better course. Now that our efforts on this side of the Atlantic have not succeeded, it falls to the US Administration to spell out their view of the way ahead. In the meantime, I urge the US to avoid taking any action that would hinder other parties from continuing to make the agreement work in the interests of our collective national security. I urge Iran to respond to the US decision with restraint and to continue to observe its commitments under the JCPOA.

We have always been at one with the United States in our profound concern about Iran’s missile tests and Iran’s disruptive role in the middle east, particularly in Yemen and Syria. The UK has acted to counter Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region, and we will continue to do so. We remain adamant that a nuclear-armed Iran would never be acceptable to the United Kingdom. Indeed, Iran’s obligation not to “seek, develop or acquire” nuclear weapons appears—without any time limit—on the first page of the preamble to the JCPOA.

Yesterday, President Trump promised to work

“with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.”

I have no difficulty whatever with that goal; the question is, how does the US propose to achieve it? Now that the Trump Administration have left the JCPOA, the responsibility falls on them to describe how they, in Washington, will build a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns—a settlement that must necessarily include Iran, China and Russia, as well as countries in the region. Britain stands ready to support that task, but in the meantime, we will strive to preserve the gains made by the JCPOA. I commend the statement to the House.