Page last updated at 17:24 GMT, Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Hague: 'No plan' for military action in Iran

The UK is "not planning" to take military action in Iran, Foreign Secretary William Hague has told MPs.

Mr Hague was answering an urgent question on 24 January 2012, tabled by Conservative Robert Halfon, who wanted to know what action was being taken against the country over its nuclear ambitions.

On Monday, the European Union agreed sanctions banning all new oil contracts with Iran and freezing the assets of Iran's central bank in the EU.

The foreign secretary said the EU's "unprecedented" measures would put pressure on Iran to enter talks about its uranium enrichment programme.

"We are not planning to take military action in the Gulf," he told MPs.

"We call on Iran to return to the negotiations which are at all times available to it," Mr Hague continued.

The foreign secretary accused the Iranian regime of trying to hide its nuclear enrichment programme and said there was "no plausible civilian use" for it.

The urgent question came after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warned that further military reinforcements could be deployed to the region following Iran's threat to close the strategically important Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for sanctions.

Mr Hague confirmed the possibility of sending further Royal Navy vessels to the area, but insisted the sanctions were designed to prevent war.

"This is not a set of actions designed to lead to any conflict but to lead us away from any conflict by increasing the pressure for a peaceful settlement of these disputes," he said.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell warned against causing "a conflagration" in the Gulf.

He wanted to know if talks had been held with other countries that had "better relations" with Iran.

Mr Hague assured Sir Menzies that discussions had been held with countries such as Oman and Turkey about the issue.

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Iran, was worried that major world powers would not back the ban on Iranian oil.

"My anxiety about these sanctions is that without China and Russia on board there will be the most substantial leakages," he said.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas claimed the sanctions could hit "ordinary Iranian citizens" rather than the regime's leaders.

The foreign secretary sought to reassure her that Britain's aim was the financing of Tehran's nuclear programmes.

"These are unprecedented and wide-ranging measures which can have a wider effect," he said.

"But that is better than the alternative of doing nothing or making a military conflict more likely," Mr Hague concluded.

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