Allowing Iran to build a nuclear bomb would spark a Middle East arms race, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned tonight.
The Foreign Secretary told MPs if the Tehran regime managed to construct a viable weapon, its neighbours would be forced to to build their own nuclear warheads too.
He said: “If Iran set about the development of nuclear weapons then other nations in the Middle East would do so as well.”
“I therefore do believe there would be a nuclear arms race in the region”.
Hague accused Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of pursuing “confrontational policies” and described the country’s enrichment of uranium in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions as “a crisis coming steadily down the track.”
The Foreign Secretary was speaking in a backbench-led House of Commons debate where Conservative MP John Baron called on MPs to demand the Government rules out using military force against Iran to attack its nuclear sites.
Baron said action would be “counter productive”, but Hague said ministers needed to retain all options as they pressured Tehran to scrap its programme.
He said ruling out force “would increase tension and increase the likelihood of military conflict in the near term”.
Hague added: “It is our assessment and that of our allies that Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons and is steadily developing the capability to produce such weapons, should it choose to do”.
Baron, a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, earlier called on the West to abandon “sabre rattling” policies over Iran’s nuclear ambitions – warning tonight’s debate could be the last chance for Parliament to consider the situation “before possible hostilities begin” in a regional war.
Tensions over Tehran’s alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons have led to Iran halting oil exports to the UK and France in retaliation for European Union sanctions.
The regime has also threatened to close the strategically vital Straits of Hormuz.
But Baron, who opposed both the Iraq War and the military intervention in Libya, urged Western powers to remove the threat of force.
Opening the debate on his motion, he said: “The sanctions and the sabre rattling are yesterday’s failed policies.
“The fact that we are once again on the brink of military conflict is testament to that failure”.
He demanded the Government “rule out the use of force in order to reduce tensions and bring us back from the brink of war and military conflict and to redouble diplomatic efforts”.
A cross-party amendment to Baron’s motion, supported by heavyweights including former foreign secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Margaret Beckett as well as former defence secretary Bob Ainsworth, backs the Government’s efforts to resolve the crisis which includes keeping “all options” – including the use of force – open.
Baron said there were “inconvenient truths” about the West’s approach to Tehran, claiming a report by the world’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), featured “no smoking gun” to show conclusive proof that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.
He conceded there was “circumstantial” evidence of a weapons programme, but stressed: “Iraq should have taught us to be very careful of basing our foreign policy decisions upon secret intelligence and circumstantial evidence”.
Hague said the Government opposed the motion as it would boost Iran’s confidence if the UK was to rule out military action.
He said: “Our policy is that whilst we remain unswervingly committed to diplomacy, it is important to emphasise to Iran that all options are on the table.
“This policy is not new. It was the position of the previous government and it is the position of our closest allies not to rule out the use of military force whilst emphasising that peaceful diplomacy is the way forward that we all wish to see”.
Hague added: “I believe that on this issue we and our key allies should stand united together. Iran has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, some of which are deemed capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.”
“Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders have repeatedly hinted at their ability and willingness to strike at opponents overseas. Iranian officials have threatened to use military force to close the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most vital trading corridors, including for the passage of oil supplies.”
“Under these circumstances, no prudent government could rule out the use of force in the future as the motion … implies should be the case. So let me be clear … that ruling out other options would be irresponsible in light of the serious nature of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and the consequences of Iran developing a nuclear programme.”
“We should not relieve Iran of any of the military pressure it is currently facing. If we ruled out military action, Iran may perceive it can get away with aggressive military actions.”
“Taking other options off the table may cause Iran to step up its aggressive and destabilising activity in the region.” He said there was a “compelling” case to keep the Government’s current policy.