Philip Hammond has said he is “confident” the international community has averted the disaster of an Iranian nuclear weapon, writes Justin Cohen.
The foreign secretary’s comments came during a speech to Conservative Friends of Israel’s reception at the party’s annual conference, at which he also insisted Britain would stand by Israel if it was again forced to defend itself as was the case last summer.
He acknowledged that he and Benjamin Netanyahu do not see “eye to eye” over the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran, but maintained it was in Israel’s best interests.
“I’m confident we have averted the disaster of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the ayatollahs,” he told the 500-strong gathering in Manchester. “If we play this right and carefully, I hope we’ll see the moderates in the Iranian regime winning ground and benefiting from this change at the expense of the extremists and hardliners.”
Reiterating the Government’s support for Israel during the Gaza conflict last year, Hammond said: “We took a bit of flack for it and we are proud of that, and we will stand behind Israel again when it is defending its right to exist and defend itself against attacks.”
He acknowledged there would not be progress towards peace with the Palestinians for next few months “for all sorts of reasons”. But without explicitly mentioning settlements, he added: “I need both sides to preserve that possibility (of a two-state solution) – we do not allow the facts on the ground to eliminate the possibility of a two-state solution.”
The foreign secretary also addressed the proposed action announced this week by the Government to stop local authority boycotts of goods. “Under a Conservative government, our foreign policy will be made in the Foreign Office, not in hundreds of Labour-controlled town halls,” he said.
Among the Cabinet ministers attending the event were Sajid Javid and Theresa Villiers, as well as Tory chairman Lord Feldman and deputy chairman Robert Halfon.
Mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith also received a warm reception. Tributes were paid to outgoing CFI director Stuart Polak during the event which Sir Eric Pickles, CFI’s parliamentary chair, ensured was held amid a party atmosphere.
Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb described Polak as a “force of nature” before explaining how a visit to Israel with CFI “opened my eyes to the challenges the country faces on a daily basis in terms of security, but also in terms of the enormous economic opportunities that exist between Israel and the UK”.
Eitan Na’eh, chargé d’affaires at the Israeli Embassy, hailed the move to outlaw boycotts, saying: “I think that will increase Israeli confidence in the international community. It will promote moderation.”
He also announced that plans were being explored to send a 300-strong delegation of Conservative Future members to Israel.