Britain could sleepwalk into conflict with Iran, warns Clegg

Nick Clegg, a candidate for the Liberal Democrat leadership, has warned against Britain "sleepwalking" into a conflict with Iran and called on Gordon Brown to rule out any prospect of supporting military action by the United States against the country.

The Prime Minister said this week he will "rule nothing out" while seeking a diplomatic resolution to the demands by the United Nations for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium.

But in a letter to Mr Brown, Mr Clegg expressed concern that given the Prime Minister's comments it was possible that the government could repeat the strategic mistakes that led to the invasion of Iraq.

In the letter Mr Clegg writes: "The rumble of war with Iraq started with similar sabre-rattling from President Bush. The war with Iraq has put back the cause of Middle East peace, failed to make Iraq more stable and has made it more difficult for Britain to argue for the rule of international law."

The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will push for tougher sanctions against Iran's oil and gas industry as well as tightening the financial screws on Iranian banks if the report on Iran's nuclear programme published today by Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), shows that Tehran is still defying the international community. However, he has refused to go as far as Jack Straw, when he was foreign secretary, in saying that support for military action against Iran would be "inconceivable".

Mr Clegg said it was vital to show absolute commitment to international law, but it appeared that Mr Brown was ready to give "a blank cheque" to President Bush to pursue an aggressive policy "with no sense of independent British foreign policy priorities".

He warned: "As President Bush nears the end of his term in office, it is essential that his administration is left in no doubt that a last-minute dash towards unilateral military action will not be supported by Britain.

"Such action would risk another major conflagration in the region and in any event is widely viewed by experts as implausible on military grounds alone."

Mr Clegg said it was "nonsense" to suggest all options should be left open to maximise leverage on Iran. Threats of military action risked strengthening the position of the hardliners in Iran, he said.

Mr Brown has said he believes the sanctions are beginning to work, but there are fears in Whitehall that ruling out military action would ease the pressure on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, ahead of today's IAEA report. They say cracks are beginning to show in his regime. Ali Larijani, the former top security official in Iran, resigned last month in the midst of tensions with his President over the negotiations with the UN.

Mr Brown has offered a compromise proposal of an international nuclear energy bank which could supply Iran with enriched uranium for its civil nuclear power programme, without risking highly enriched, weapons-grade material being transferred to the country.

The shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, warned, in another open letter, against delaying tougher sanctions if today's report shows Iran is in breach of commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, following reports that Tehran was seeking to stall talks with Javier Solana, the EU's senior diplomat.

"As a result of this inaction, there is a grave risk that our diplomatic efforts to constrain Iran's nuclear programme may be overtaken by events," said Mr Hague. He said it was estimated that Iran had 2,000 centrifuges in its underground enrichment plant and it would only need 3,000 to produce enough uranium for a weapon in six to 12 months.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'