23 May 2012
UK government ministers have discussed the legal implications of varying levels of British involvement in military action against Iran, it has been reported.
The possibility of British involvement was said to have been discussed at last week's meeting of the National Security Council, according to BBC journalist Nick Robinson.
Ministers were said to have been told that any Israeli military action against Iran was likely to lead to wider war in the Middle East and the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil supply route which the US and UK have pledged to keep open.
The potential legality of a variety of levels of British involvement is said to be being investigated, with options ranging from "British diplomatic support for Israel through to the possible involvement of the Royal Navy in the region", Robinson wrote.
The government was reportedly drawing up contingency plans for a potential British role in any attack on Iran as far back as November last year, shortly before a damning International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report said that elements of Iran's nuclear programme could only be used to produce nuclear weapons.
The issue hinges on Iran's uranium enrichment activity, which the country insists is for electricity generation and medical purposes. While nuclear reactors require 3 to 4 per cent enriched uranium, Iran's nuclear programme has already produced 20 per cent enriched uranium, still short of the 90 per cent needed for weapons grade, but a cause of concern for western leaders.
The news comes as the first day of talks over Iran's nuclear programme begin in Baghdad between the country's nuclear negotiators and the P5+1 nations, the UK, Russia, China, the USA, France and Germany.
The talks are the second set this year following a meeting in Istanbul in mid-April, and the P5+1 are expected to ask Iran to forego its 20 per cent uranium enrichment activity and allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into the country.
Kate Hudson, chair of The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "The consequences of a military attack on Iran would be disastrous not only for that country but for the region as a whole. The lessons of both Iraq and Afghanistan show that there cannot be a military solution to complex regional problems – death and destruction is not the answer. Genuine dialogue and diplomacy on the basis of equality and respect is the only way forward."
Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said the government should be "focussed on ensuring a successful outcome to the talks now underway" rather than "sabre rattling".
"Now is the time both to be engaging directly with Iran and increasing the diplomatic pressure upon Iran to meet its obligations under the NPT (non-proliferation treaty)."