The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, flew into London on Thursday urging Britain to end talks with Iran over the nuclear deal.
Netanyahu is meeting the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, for hastily arranged talks where he is expected to urge Britain to spurn a French plan to offer a $15bn credit lifeline to help Iran sell oil.
Johnson will also meet the US vice-president, Mike Pence, while Netanyahu will hold talks in London later in the day with the US defence secretary, Mark Esper. That Johnson has cleared his diary in the middle of domestic political chaos is a tribute to Netanyahu’s influence in Downing Street.
Iran and three European countries – Britain, France and Germany – have been engaged in talks to save the landmark 2015 nuclear accord, which has been unravelling since Donald Trump withdrew from it in May last year.Advertisement
On his way to London the Israeli leader cited an Iranian plan to restart research on building advanced nuclear centrifuges in further breach of the accord. The centrifuge plan, Tehran’s third step away from the deal, was announced by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, on Wednesday.
“Today we were told about another violation carried out by Iran, this time in relation to nuclear proliferation,” Netanyahu said. “This joins Iran’s aggressive acts against international shipping and against countries in the region, as well as its efforts to carry out murderous attacks against the state of Israel, efforts that have not ceased.
“This is not the time to hold talks with Iran; this is the time to increase the pressure on Iran … These are important matters for the state of Israel at all times, but especially now.”
There is suspicion, nevertheless, that Netanyahu’s lightning visit to London is in part designed to bolster his international standing, and play the security card ahead of highly charged elections in a fortnight.
But the timing gives the Israeli prime minister a platform to pour cold water on Emmanuel Macron’s Iran proposal – a plan that has already been greeted with deep scepticism by the US special representative on Iran, Brian Hook, as he announced fresh plans on Wednesday to sanction Iranian efforts to export oil.
Trump for his part has reiterated his willingness to meet Rouhani, but said there would be no easing of US sanctions. “That’s not happening,” he said. “That won’t be happening.”
It would be a diplomatic coup for Israel and the US if they could lever Britain away from the Macron plan, and, even more, away from the nuclear deal.
In the face of year-long pressure from the White House, the UK has continued to ally with France and Germany, the two original signatories to the 2015 deal, insisting Iran was not in breach of a deal that remained the best way to prevent nuclear proliferation in the region.
Many European diplomats claim even now that the narrowing door to diplomacy remains open because Iran has announced it will take its next step on centrifuges only if, in two month’s time, no progress on selling oil has been made. Iran also did not announce any steps to increase its level of uranium enrichment.
The French plan, largely leaked by Iran, proposes a $15bn credit line as a prepayment for the purchase of Iranian oil. The plan requires a US willingness to reinstate sanctions waivers on countries that purchase Iranian oil. The credit line would be the first step in a phased programme to address wider concerns with Iran, including its ballistic missiles, regional behaviour and the renewal of the nuclear deal. Britain has not yet said anything publicly in support of the plan, but has emphasised that the plan has been led by the French.
But given the US and Israeli approach, Macron’s chances of success seem to be receding. Rouhani has also refused to countenance a meeting with Trump, possibly at the UN general assembly in New York, and the Iranian decision on centrifuges has disappointed the French.
Under the accord, Iran was allowed to keep restricted quantities of first-generation centrifuges, IR-1s, at two nuclear plants. The successful development of more advanced centrifuges, IR-4s, IR-6s and IR-8s, would enable it to produce limited amounts of material for a potential nuclear bomb at a faster speed.
“From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way,” Rouhani said. “All limitations on our research and development will be lifted on Friday.”
In a step away from confrontation, the owner of the captured British flagged ship Stena Impero has confirmed that seven crew members have been released by Iranian authorities.
Source: The Guardian