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Today’s Sunday Times:

"The Foreign Office has cleared dozens of Iranians to enter British universities to study advanced nuclear physics and other subjects with the potential to be applied to weapons of mass destruction.  In the past nine months about 60 Iranians have been admitted to study postgraduate courses deemed “proliferation-sensitive” by the security services. The disciplines range from nuclear physics to some areas of electrical and chemical engineering and microbiology."

Willetts_david_new
Conservative Universities spokesman David Willetts, who uncovered this fact, commented:

“Given that we need to have tougher sanctions against Iran, it does seem extraordinary that the government is not yet stopping Iranians coming here to study nuclear physics. There is legitimate concern about what some students have been studying.”

1.45pm update.

David Willetts is really on the case now:

"It
is very worrying that the Government might not be meeting its
international obligations to prevent nuclear proliferation.  We have a
clear obligation to ensure that our own universities,
even inadvertently, do not contribute to the spread of these
weapons.  I have therefore written to John Denham [Universities Secretary] setting out the
crucial questions to which we need answers."

This has just been emailed to me:

"In
response to news that the Foreign Office has allowed dozens of Iranians
into British universities to study advanced nuclear physics, David
Willetts, Shadow Universities Secretary, has written to John Denham. 

The letter says:

Dear John,

I
am writing to seek crucial information about the vetting system for the
teaching of "proliferation-sensitive" subjects at British universities.

The
Government is obliged, under the terms of United Nations Security
Council Resolution 1737 (23rd December 2006) to "prevent specialised
teaching or training of Iranian nationals, which would contribute to
Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities".  At the GAERC
meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on (22nd January 2007), the Government
committed to to "take measures to prevent Iranian nationals from
studying proliferation sensitive subjects". 

Following
up on the answers I received to my parliamentary questions on this
topic last week and on 24th April 2006, I was concerned to learn that
60 Iranian nationals have been admitted for such courses in the last
year.

I
appreciate that there are many Iranian nationals who have not lived in
the Islamic Republic for a number of years and who are not supportive
of the current regime. Moreover, we do not wish to close down our links
with the people of oppressive regimes such as Iran; our universities
have an important role to play in fostering cultural exchange.  There
is no better way of seeing the benefits of the open society than
experiencing it.   

However, we need the answers to the following key questions:

i)
How many Iranian nationals have been admitted to British universities
for proliferation-sensitive courses since 2000?  Of these students, how
many were resident in the EU before they applied?  How many have
returned to Iran?

ii)
Were these Iranian nationals properly security-cleared in advance?  How
many applications from Iranian students seeking to study in the UK have
been rejected on security grounds?

iii) How were these Iranian students funded?

The
Government has made crucial international commitments.  What steps were
taken by your department (or its predecessor) to ensure we complied
with these undertakings? When were these steps taken?  How many Iranian
students who had been considered eligible for proliferation-sensitive
subjects prior to the passing of the resolution were subsequently
stopped from studying in the UK?

We have a clear obligation to ensure that our own universities, even inadvertently, do not contribute to nuclear proliferation.

Given the legitimate public interest in these questions, I am releasing this letter to the press.

Yours,

David Willetts MP"

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