The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has urged Donald Trump not to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, saying that the Middle East would become an even more dangerous place if such an important diplomatic victory was thrown away with nothing better to replace it.
The US president is due to decide next week whether to withdraw from the agreement, by which Iran accepted nuclear inspections in return for a loosening of economic sanctions. There is intense political pressure from Tehran and the key European powers Britain, Germany and France to stick with the deal.
“If one day there is a better agreement to replace it it’s fine, but we should not scrap it unless we have a good alternative,” Guterres said in an interview with BBC Radio 4.
“I believe the JCPOA [nuclear deal] was an important diplomatic victory and I think it will be important to preserve it, but I also believe there are areas in which it will be very important to have a meaningful dialogue because I see the region in a very dangerous position,” he said.
His comments came as a senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, said that Iran would not remain in the accord if the US decided to leave. “If the United States withdraws from the nuclear deal, then we will not stay in it,” foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted as saying by state television.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also vowed not to renegotiate the deal. “We will not outsource our security, nor will we negotiate or add on to a deal that we have already negotiated in good faith,” Zarif said in a statement posted online.
The EU has been saying that it will seek to remain in the deal along with the other signatories, Russia and China. Diplomats from Italy, France, the UK and Germany were meeting their Iranian counterparts in Rome on Thursday in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the agreement.
Guterres, who is in London for a three-day visit, said the risks of a confrontation between Israel and Iran were there, adding: “We need to do everything to avoid those risks.”Referring to US concerns about Iran’s wider behaviour, he said: “I understand the concerns of some countries in relation to the Iranian influence in other countries of the region. So I think we should separate things.”
The UK, France and Germany plan to keep campaigning next week, and may even make common cause with Tehran to preserve the deal if Trump pulls out and allows US sanctions on Iran to be reimposed.
In a bid to satisfy Trump’s concerns, the three countries have already agreed to seek a supplementary deal with Iran that would cover Iran’s general behaviour in the region, its use of ballistic missiles and the future of the deal once it expires, the so-called sunset clause.
The former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw also intervened to urge Washington not to scrap the deal. “The great irony of President Trump’s position that it will do the opposite of what it intends. It will undermine President Hassan Rouhani and all those trying to reform Iran. It will also end all the restraints on a serious nuclear programme,” he said.
“I hope the European nations will actively cooperate to support regulations as they did in 1996 to protect their economies and firms from the impact of any American sanctions if they are imposed.”
In 1996 the US Congress passed the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act, which imposed sanctions on all firms, including non-US firms, if they were doing business with either country. The EU passed a blocking statute later the same year to make it illegal for any European firm to abide by the US sanctions. It also took the US to World Trade Organisation, arguing it was in breach of free trade regulations by trying to impose restrictions on non-US firms.
So far the EU has not discussed in public whether it has a plan B to try to preserve the deal with Iran in the event of Trump pulling out, preferring instead to focus on the last-ditch efforts to persuade the US president to rethink.
Diplomats are divided over whether Trump will regard himself as on a roll after the shift towards peace in North Korea, and whether that will make him more or less willing to listen to his European partners.