Theresa May has signalled her continued support for the international nuclear deal with Iran, as her Israeli counterpart urged her to join Donald Trump in imposing fresh sanctions against Tehran.
Visiting 10 Downing Street days after Iran test-fired a ballistic missile, Benjamin Netanyahu said that “responsible” nations should follow the US president’s lead to head off Iranian aggression.
While Mrs May has described the 2015 nuclear agreement as “vital” for the security of the region, Mr Netanyahu has long made clear he regards it as a bad deal which will do nothing to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Mr Trump has attacked it as “the worst deal ever negotiated”.
Speaking in front of TV cameras as they began talks at Number 10, the Israeli PM – who is due to meet Mr Trump in Washington next week – told Mrs May: “Iran seeks to annihilate Israel, it seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world. And it offers provocation after provocation.
“That’s why I welcome President Trump’s insistence on new sanctions against Iran. I think other nations should follow suit, certainly responsible nations.
“And I’d like to talk to you about how we can ensure that Iran’s aggression does not go unanswered.”
Following the meeting, Mrs May’s official spokeswoman said that the PM had “made clear that we support the deal on nuclear that was agreed”.
Echoing Mrs May’s words in a speech in Philadelphia last week, the spokeswoman added: “What needs to happen now is that it needs to be properly enforced and policed and we also need to be alert to Iran’s pattern of destabilising activity in the region.”
The deal, under which sanctions were lifted in return for Tehran giving up its military nuclear ambitions, had “neutralised the possibility of the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons for more than a decade”, said the PM’s spokeswoman.
Mrs May made clear that her top priority for the talks was strengthening trade and investment links ahead of Brexit as well as exploring the potential for a deeper commercial relationship after the UK has left the EU.
She said she believed there was “much more we can do” and it was important to look at how “we can build that relationship”.
They agreed to set up a new UK-Israel trade working group, with trade minister Lord Price to visit Israel soon to take discussions forward.
And the PM invited Mr Netanyahu to return to Britain later this year for events to mark the 100th anniversary of Prime Minister Arthur Balfour’s 1917 declaration of UK support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
Mrs May told MPs that she had raised the issue of Israeli settlement-building on occupied Palestinian land during the meeting.
Challenged on the issue by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons, Mrs May said: “I have made the UK Government’s position clear on settlements and I continued to do that today.”
Mrs May’s spokeswoman later made clear that Britain is concerned that the construction of settlements on Palestinian land risks undermining trust in political efforts to find a two-state solution to tensions in the Middle East.
“We want to be able to support finding a resolution, finding a path to the two-state solution,” said the spokeswoman.
“In that context we want to work with Israel as a friend, recognise their right to be free from terrorism, but also be clear when we have concerns about that approach and how it can undermine trust.”
The spokeswoman said Mrs May and Mr Netanyahu also discussed co-operation on cyber-security, innovation and technology.
The meeting between the pair got off to an awkward start after Mr Netanyahu arrived two minutes early and she failed to meet him outside the famous black door of Number 10, leaving him in the street for around 15 seconds before he entered alone.
They emerged two minutes later to shake hands in front of the assembled media.