Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague on 3 November 2008.
Tomorrow, the people of the United States of America will choose a new President.
He will very quickly have to grapple with the urgent need to head off Iran’s dash towards nuclear weapons capability.
The stakes are considerable: If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, we are likely to face a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, the shattering of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty which has been a cornerstone of our collective security for the last four decades, and the rise of a new era of insecurity in the Middle East.
We know full well that Iranian support of Hezbollah enabled it to rain down missiles on Israeli cities in 2006. If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, its ability to destabilise the region will be dangerously enhanced.
Iran has paid no serious penalty for its defiance of the Security Council and its abuse of the NPT. It is isolated, but only marginally. It has revelled in high oil revenues. It faces sanctions, but they have not yet bitten into the finances or freedom of movement of those responsible for Iran’s actions. Whatever anyone says, the fact that the Security Council failed to agree a single new sanction on Iran in the last seven months sends a terrible signal of weakness and disunity.
A successful policy towards Iran cannot be achieved by either Europe or America acting in isolation. The experience of past years suggests that America alone can offer the incentives to form a long-term settlement with Iran – Europe has tried, but without success. But no American President can do this unless European countries muster the will to back diplomacy with meaningful sanctions. Direct US engagement with Iran has the potential to be a decisive factor in bringing Iran to the negotiating table. But it is not a panacea. Unless we can demonstrate to Iran that it has to come to the table or else face serious consequences, the offer of talks will probably attract a derisory response from Tehran and encourage it to think that the world is caving into its demands. To succeed, negotiations must take place from the strength that a truly united strategy would bring, one based on the exertion of peaceful but meaningful pressure.
European countries must summon the will to impose new sanctions, and do so quickly. There should be a ban on new investment in Iranian oil and gas, an end to European export credit guarantees which subsidise trade with Iran and a freeze on those Iranian banks which have abused the international financial system.
We will be encouraging Britain to work with the new American President to join up the European and American approaches to Iran’s nuclear programme, and to bring our other vital partners on board. Because the strategy of western nations is currently drifting, there is a danger of fissure between governments about what approach to pursue, and divisions amongst the Security Council members are once more coming to the fore. Many in Europe appear to be sitting back, hoping for a dramatic initiative by America that will take this difficult problem from our hands. This is wishful and irresponsible thinking. Nuclear proliferation threatens all countries. It is imperative that all countries recognise this and act.