Iran crisis: May in last-ditch plea for peaceful resolution as Tehran breaches nuclear weapon deal terms

Prime minister says UK will do 'everything we can' to salvage Iran nuclear deal

Andrew Woodcock
Osaka, Japan
Thursday 27 June 2019 10:23
Jeremy Hunt says UK would not join US in war against Iran

Theresa May has issued a last-ditch plea for a peaceful resolution to tensions over Iran, as Tehran put itself in breach of an international nuclear deal.

Iran was due on Thursday to exceed uranium stockpile limits to which it committed in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

The move comes against the backdrop of warlike talk from US president Donald Trump, who last week ordered airstrikes against Iranian targets only to call planes back at the last minute.

The crisis is set to overshadow the annual summit of G20 nations in Osaka, Japan, attended by both Ms May and Mr Trump.

Speaking before his departure for Japan, the US president made clear he has not ruled out using military force in retaliation to attacks on two oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz and the downing of an unmanned US drone.

"I hope we don't but we're in a very strong position if something should happen,” said Mr Trump.

“I’m not talking boots on the ground, I'm just saying if something would happen, it wouldn't last very long.”

Speaking as she arrived in Osaka for her final global summit as PM, Ms May said she was ready to do “everything we can” in concert with European allies to salvage the nuclear deal, which bars Iran from acquiring an atomic military capability.

And asked whether she was ready to offer UK backing and military support to any US action, she stressed the need to reverse the drift towards conflict.

“I think what we need to see in relation to Iran at the moment is a de-escalation of the tensions that we’ve seen in that region,” said the PM.

Tehran’s announcement that it is ready to breach stockpile limits on low-enriched uranium, which can be used in a nuclear reactor but not an atomic bomb, appears to be an attempt to put pressure on European countries to grant the country access to international financial systems which would enable it to work round US sanctions.

Theresa May arrives with her husband Philip May in Osaka, where she is expected to hold bilateral talks with Vladimir Putin

The UK has already said it will consider “all options available” under the terms of the nuclear agreement, which sets out a process of gradually escalating diplomatic pressure leading to possible economic sanctions in response to breaches.

Ms May said it was “important that Iran also abides by its commitments”.

But she made clear that she is not ready to tear up the deal, from which Mr Trump has already withdrawn US backing.

“We do have as the UK a difference of opinion with the United States on the JCPOA,” said Ms May. “We continue to believe in the importance of that agreement, of maintaining that nuclear deal. That’s why we will continue to work with France and Germany particularly to ensure that the JCPOA can stay in place.

Ms May called for the international community to “stand together against Iran’s deeply destabilising activity” but said the priority must be a diplomatic resolution.

In a message to fellow leaders apparently aimed squarely at Mr Trump, she appealed for international co-operation and compromise to deal with global challenges.

And she set her face firmly against Mr Trump’s dismissive attitude towards international institutions, declaring her strong belief in the continued importance of the G20 as a forum for discussion and agreement.

A planned meeting between the US president and Chinese premier Xi Jinping on Saturday is likely to be the focus of attention at the two-day gathering, with Mr Trump warning he is ready to hike tariffs if no progress is made.

Ms May will meet Russian president Vladimir Putin on Friday for their first formal talks since the chemical weapon attack in Salisbury last year.

But Downing Street played down suggestions that the meeting marked a thaw in UK-Russia relations, which have been in deep-freeze since the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the nerve agent novichok.

The PM’s official spokesperson said Ms May would take the opportunity to restate her concerns over Russia’s “pattern of malign behaviour”, adding: “This meeting does not represent a normalisation of relations.”

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