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Thursday 19 September 2019

Johnson flies to US in bid to rescue Iran nuclear deal

Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

Rob Crilly

British, American and European diplomats are close to agreeing a joint approach to reining in Iran's territorial ambitions and missile programme, according to Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, who is due to arrive in Washington for last ditch talks to save the Iran nuclear deal.

In an article published in yesterday's 'New York Times', Mr Johnson writes that the deal remains the least worst option. Abandoning it now could prompt a regional arms race triggered by "Iran dashing for a bomb", he says.

"Of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, this pact offers the fewest disadvantages," he continues. "It has weaknesses, certainly, but I am convinced they can be remedied."

Under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed by the US, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain with Iran, Tehran is committed to a peaceful nuclear energy programme.

Mr Trump has been a frequent critic - describing it as the "worst deal ever" - and says the US will withdraw unless its shortcomings are fixed.

European figures have been lobbying Washington as the deadline approaches.

Mr Johnson is due to meet Mike Pence, the US vice president, and John Bolton, Mr Trump's most senior security adviser, during his visit.

He is also expected to appear on one of Mr Trump's favourite TV shows, 'Fox and Friends'. The President frequently announces policy initiatives or fires off tweets in response to issues highlighted by the programme.

Ahead of those meetings, Mr Johnson pointed out the value of the deal, writing that Iran placed two-thirds of its centrifuges in storage and gave up about 95pc of its uranium stockpile, extending the "break out" time - the time it would need to build a bomb - to more than a year.

"Now that these handcuffs are in place, I see no possible advantage in casting them aside. Only Iran would gain from abandoning the restrictions on its nuclear programme," he writes. But he adds that the UK shares Mr Trump's concerns about Iran's support for terrorist groups and its long-range missile programme.

And he said there had been progress in developing a joint approach to countering its regional meddling, but that the nuclear deal should remain central to handling Tehran.

"I believe that keeping the deal's constraints on Iran's nuclear programme will also help counter Tehran's aggressive regional behaviour," he said.

"I am sure of one thing: every available alternative is worse. The wisest course would be to improve the handcuffs rather than break them."

For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the United States would regret any decision to leave Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and Tehran would fiercely resist US pressure to limit its influence in the Middle East.

Mr Trump, a long-time critic of the deal reached between Iran and the six powers in 2015 before he took office, has threatened to pull out by not extending sanctions waivers when they expire on May 12, unless European signatories of the accord fix what he calls its "flaws".

"If they want to make sure that we are not after a nuclear bomb, we have said repeatedly that we are not and we will not be," Mr Rouhani, who engineered the nuclear accord to ease Iran's isolation, said in a speech broadcast live on state television. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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