Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

4:00 pm

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the latest report issued by the EU three relating to Iranian nuclear capability and development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33287/05]

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 59: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to negotiations taking place between three European Union member states and Iran with regard to nuclear capability and development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33273/05]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 59 together.

Negotiations between the EU three and Iran are suspended following Iran's decision on 8 August 2005 to recommence conversion of uranium at its Isfahan facility. This action was in breach of the Paris Agreement signed by Iran and the EU three, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in November 2004. Under this agreement, Iran, inter alia, re-affirmed that it did not and would not seek to acquire nuclear weapons and committed itself to full transparency and co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran decided voluntarily to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities and to invite the IAEA to verify and monitor the suspension. In return, the EU three agreed to commence negotiations with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements in the areas of political and security issues, technology and co-operation and nuclear issues.

At the board of governors meeting at the IAEA last September, the EU three co-sponsored a resolution that found Iran to be non-compliant with the agency's statute. The board now has the option to refer Iran to the UN Security Council at a future date. To avoid such referral, Iran has been urged, inter alia, to re-establish full and sustained suspension of uranium conversion and to implement transparency measures, including provision of documentation relating to its nuclear programme and providing IAEA inspectors with access to facilities. The resolution also requested the director general of the IAEA to continue his efforts to implement the resolution and previous resolutions and to report back to the board of governors on any developments on issues raised in his September report. On the basis of this future report, the board of governors will decide what further action should be taken on Iran.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council earlier this week reiterated its grave concern at Iran's resumption of activity at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan. The Council urged Iran to implement all measures requested by the IAEA board of governors in its resolution on 24 September, including reinstating a full suspension of all fuel cycle activities thus allowing negotiations with the European side to resume before the IAEA board meets again in November. The Council underlined the EU's continued support for a diplomatic solution to international concerns over Iran's nuclear programme and agreed to keep the EU's approach to Iran under close review in light of progress on the nuclear file and other issues of concern. While the Iranian Foreign Minister recently wrote to EU colleagues proposing a resumption of negotiations, Iran has so far taken none of the measures requested by the IAEA board.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his response and for his earlier comments regarding the failure of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaty talks. The level of hypocrisy and double standards is breathtaking. The reckless attitude of some states is something we could all live to regret because the longer the indecision and double standards continue, the greater the risk that nuclear materials will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. We could all be at risk at that stage.

My question referred to the EU three, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, representing the EU in talks with Iran. At the meeting earlier this week, where a review of the Iranian situation took place, was consideration given to an opinion which exists that, because of their chequered history, the three countries involved may not be the best countries to represent the European Union in dealing with Iran and its nuclear programme? Has consideration been given to bringing on board, for example, Ireland because of its record in regard to the non-proliferation treaty? A Minister said recently that we do not have the expertise to deal with these complex issues. Has any consideration been given to bringing on board countries like Ireland to deal with this problem? We have the expertise and the scientific back-up and there are no such barriers to our involvement. However, there are barriers because of the chequered past of some of the countries involved at present. Has a review taken place?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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A review has not taken place. We have full confidence in the three countries involved. We are fully informed and briefed at all the meetings that feed into the GAERC meetings that I attend. We get full and frank disclosure of the discussions that take place. It is difficult as it is a stop start issue as regards the relationship with Iran. It is important we engage with them in a diplomatic way because the international community is looking to the EU3 and the EU as the brokers. It is one issue on which the international community needs to be vigilant in the months and years ahead because the potential for further destabilising of this area is plain to see in some of the injudicious remarks that have been made. It is vital that we negotiate in a diplomatic way rather than using bully-boy tactics with a country such as Iran, which is pivotal in this area. I had occasion to meet with the representative of Iran some months ago in the UN — I think the Deputy was in the vicinity — and when he asked me about the nuclear issue as a member of the EU I made clear to him Ireland's long-standing position in regard to nuclear disarmament and the entire nuclear defence and non-defence issue. He clearly said to me that as far as they were concerned they were only doing what they were entitled to do under the NPT which was to have a civilian nuclear industry. I said that so long as it was that type of facility, even though we did not agree with it as a policy in Ireland, if they were prepared to allow it to be independently inspected that would be sufficient for the EU. Unfortunately the inspections that have taken place under the aegis of the IAEA have not been transparent and some of the issues that have been unearthed lead the international community to be very concerned.

To return to the Deputy's central point, we have full confidence in those countries, particularly the EU3 in that they do have far more expertise in the area of nuclear armaments and defence capabilities from a nuclear point of view than Ireland.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Will the Minister agree that one of the lasting consequences of the war in Iraq is that the position of Iran has been strengthened substantially and that the Shiites in Iraq are in the ascendency? Will he agree this is partly the reason the Iranians have been emboldened to move forward with a nuclear programme?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I do not honestly know. They maintain they have made a decision to put in place nuclear energy facilities in their state which is their entitlement under the NPT. It was made clear to me when I met the Iranian ambassador to the UN that they had made a policy decision to go nuclear and that they were putting in place facilities. He had with him a member of the Iranian Parliament who said that because of the impending elections their ability, or non-ability, to move on this was a strong political issue within Iran. The Deputy asked if this had emboldened on them in this area. I cannot honestly say but this area is a tinderbox and it has to be dealt with strongly and to a large extent in a diplomatic way. We have to show there is a mutual interest for the EU, the wider international community and also for Iran in regard to better relationships with a block such as the EU which is on its doorstep.