Allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons would be a “desperately bad development for the world”, David Cameron said today as he held talks in the United Arab Emirates on future defence co-operation.
The Prime Minister warned of a potential arms race across the Middle East amid rising tensions over Tehran's nuclear enrichment programme in the region and planning for dealing with any conflagration.
He flew into a military airbase in Dubai with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to show off RAF Typhoon jets there as part of an exercise - in the hope the UAE will buy 60 of the BAE aircraft.
But there is also speculation that the UK could station forces in the region more permanently as contingency plans are examined for any escalation of the Iran stand-off.
Iran is subject to tough international sanctions but insists its nuclear programme is civilian.
Asked about the issue during a question and answer session with students at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, he said: "Iran does pose a threat in two ways.
"First of all, if Iran is embarked on trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, as I believe it is, that is a threat in itself, particularly given what Iran has said about other countries in the region, and in particular about Israel, about wanting to 'wipe it off the map'.
"In itself it is a hugely concerning development, a desperately bad development for our world and that is why we should do everything we can to stop it happening.
"But I think there is a second reason why it is so concerning and that is because I think it could trigger a nuclear arms race across the whole region. That would consume a huge amount of resources and energy but also I think make the Middle East a more dangerous, more unstable part of the world.
"So I think that for all those reasons it is right for like-minded countries to do everything they can to try to persuade the Iranians to take a different course," he said, paying tribute to the fact that Dubai had almost entirely ended trade with what was one of its biggest trading partners.
It was "perfectly acceptable" for Iran to want civilian nuclear energy, he said.
"The message we need to send to Iran is: there is a peaceful path; there is a path you could take that will remove the pariah status from your nation and that is to accept that you could have civil nuclear power but not military nuclear power and then we could have a proper discussion."