Britain has strongly defended a landmark agreement with Iran to curtail its nuclear programme after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that it threatened his country’s survival.
The outline deal, hammered out in lengthy talks in Switzerland between six world powers – including the UK – and Iran, will see a phased lifting of international sanctions in return for Tehran forgoing the ability to produce weapons-grade material.
While US President Barack Obama hailed the breakthrough in Lausanne, it provoked a furious response from the Israelis, who said it had given “legitimacy” to Iran‘s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, however, insisted that the agreement – which was subject to strict verification – had potentially headed off a Middle East arms race.
“This is a welcome agreement. It is clearly better than having no deal at all,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
“There will now be limits to the enrichment capacity of Iran, their research and development will be controlled, and they will now allow greater oversight over their civil nuclear programme.
“Of course, it is all subject to verification – the sanctions will not be lifted until the progress that has been agreed by Iran is actually being made on the ground.
“A deal like this does help to improve confidence and trust on all sides and avoids the kind of nuclear arms race that might take place if there wasn’t a deal.”
Mr Fallon said he hoped that the agreement would lead to improved relations with Iran and enable the reopening of the British embassy in Tehran, which has been closed since it was stormed by a mob in 2011.
“From our point of view, Iran is a hugely important player in the region. We would like to have normal relations with Iran again, we would like to reopen our embassy. We have no quarrel with the Iranian people,” he said.
His comments are unlikely to placate Mr Netanyahu, who told Mr Obama in a phone call that a final deal based on the understandings announced in Lausanne would “threaten the survival of Israel”.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the agreement left Iran‘s “expansive nuclear infrastructure” intact, and would not close down a single Iranian nuclear facility.
“What we have here is a deal that unfortunately gives legitimacy to Iran‘s nuclear programme and the sole purpose of that programme is to get nuclear weapons,” he said.