UK will not follow Trump in ditching Iran deal, Boris Johnson vows

Foreign secretary says government will do utmost to protect UK firms from any extra sanctions imposed by the US

Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has vowed the UK will not walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, and said it was Donald Trump’s responsibility to come up with detailed proposals for a better way to constrain Iran’s nuclear programme.

Johnson had travelled to Washington last week to urge the Trump administration to stick with the landmark 2015 deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for easing international economic sanctions.

Trump announced on Tuesday that the US would “exit the Iran deal”. He said he intended to punish countries that continued to trade with Iran, and reimpose a vast array of sanctions that would start to bite over the next 180 days.

Speaking on Wednesday, Johnson said the UK would do its utmost to protect British companies from any extra territorial sanctions imposed by the US. He said he would come up with specific proposals in due course after consultations with his European partners, but insisted the dispute with the US would not affect wider Anglo-American relations.

In an attempt to reassure MPs, Johnson said he had questioned senior figures in the US state department and the White House last week, and came away assured there was no enthusiasm in the US for a military option to be deployed against Iran.

Johnson said he regretted the US decision to exit the deal, also known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA). He said the UK had tried to keep America in the deal, adding the US decision made no change to the British assessment that the agreement was vital for British national security and the stability of the Middle East.

The UN nuclear watchdog confirmed on Wednesday that Iran was implementing “nuclear-related commitments” under its deal with world powers.

Iran has relinquished 95% of its low-enriched uranium, placed two-thirds of its centrifuges in storage, removed the core of its heavy water reactor, thus closing off the plutonium route to development of a bomb. It has allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to mount the most rigorous intrusive regime ever devised, “an obligation on Iran that lasts until 2040”.

Johnson said Britain had no intention of walking away, adding that it was vital that the Iranian people continued to enjoy the economic benefits of the deal. He said “the responsibility now falls on Washington to explain how they will find a negotiated solution” to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In the past, Johnson has repeatedly found himself trying to justify to Labour opposition his decision to work alongside Trump over issues such as climate change. But on Wednesday the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, made only a passing reference to Johnson’s perceived lack of influence, instead concentrating her rhetorical fire on Trump’s decision to quit the deal.

Thornberry said the president had “risked triggering a nuclear arms race” in the Middle East as she attacked his “reckless, senseless and immoral act of diplomatic sabotage”.

She told MPs the president had taken the decision without the “slightest justification and without the simplest rational thought” as to what would happen next. By scuppering the deal, she said he had handed power back to the hard line theocrats in Tehran.

She later quoted a comment piece from the New York Times which accused the Trump administration of “employing exactly the same playbook used before the Iraq war to manufacture a pretext for war with Iran”.

She added: “If we did not know it before, what yesterday’s announcement confirmed is that as long as Donald Trump remains president we must get used to a world without American leadership.

“A world where efforts to secure peace and progress on the greatest challenges facing the planet must be made not just without American co-operation, but often in the face of this administration’s active opposition.”

The bulk of MPs agreed that Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal was a mistake, but the former Conservative defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon described the deal as flimsy, adding that it should never have been called comprehensive. He added that far from constraining Iran, it had enabled the Iranian regime to use its new financial freedoms to interfere in Syria and Iraq, “and above all in Yemen and to sponsor the attacks on our friends in Saudi Arabia”.

Johnson accepted the deal had limitations and repeatedly criticised Iran’s malign behaviour in the region, but said this was best addressed by building on the JCPOA, rather than by scrapping it.

The foreign secretary came under some criticism for not being able to provide any details of how the British companies could be protected from the effect of US sanctions, with MPs pointing out that the reimposition of sanctions had been on the cards for months, and possibly since Trump was elected in November 2016.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, said the government had learned the limits of sycophancy and urged the government to prepare contingency plans in the event that the withdrawal of 4m barrels of oil from the markets leads to an oil price shock this summer.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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