Hague fears Iran could start 'new Cold War'

 

Shashank Joshi, Royal United Services Institute: "They've considered that this an extremely useful insurance policy"

Iran's nuclear ambitions could plunge the Middle East into "a new Cold War", the UK foreign secretary has warned.

William Hague told the Daily Telegraph other nations in the region would want to develop nuclear weapons if Iran did.

Without "the safety mechanisms" of the US-USSR rivalry, Mr Hague said it would be "a disaster in world affairs".

But ex-UK diplomat Sir Richard Dalton said Iran was not "rushing towards a nuclear weapon". Tehran insists its programme is for energy purposes.

The West suspects Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons.

Mr Hague told the newspaper there was a "crisis coming down the tracks".

"If [the Iranians] obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons.

"And so, the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun with all the destabilising effects in the Middle East."

'Enormous downsides'

Mr Hague's comments come amid heightened tensions in the Middle East, with Israel accusing Iran of masterminding attacks on its embassies in India, Thailand and Georgia. Iran denies the allegations.

It blames Israel and the US for the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, allegations they deny.

Analysis

In his Daily Telegraph interview, William Hague has spelled out what Iran-watchers have long feared. Namely, that there could be a Middle East arms race if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey would certainly be among those most concerned by Iran getting a bomb.

It's clear from Mr Hague's comments that Britain wants to continue to pursue a twin-track approach towards Iran - maintaining the economic pressure, through sanctions, while also keeping open the door to negotiations.

All options remain on the table, including military action, but Britain, for one, appears set on working for a diplomatic solution.

However, diplomatic engagement was complicated by the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from the UK last December, and the withdrawal of Britain's embassy staff from Tehran. Rebuilding the trust will take time.

Hence, the cautious welcome from the EU to Iran's apparent willingness to restart negotiations.

Speaking earlier this month, US President Barack Obama emphasised that Israel and the US were working in "unison" to counter Iran.

However, some commentators have suggested that behind the scenes Washington is deeply alarmed by reports that Israel may strike Iran as early as April. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly said there was a strong likelihood of such an offensive.

Mr Hague told the Telegraph that Britain has urged Israel not to strike: "We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand.

"All options must remain on the table" but a military attack would have "enormous downsides", he said.

Shashank Joshi, of defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, told the BBC the West's fears could be unfounded.

"If we could live with nuclear weapons in the hands of totalitarian, genocidal states like Stalin's Russia or Mao's China, Iran in contrast - whatever its repulsive internal policies and adventurism abroad - is far more rational," he said.

Mr Joshi said Iran may not be actively pursuing the creation of nuclear weapons but leaving the option open.

"If they feel their regime is under existential threat, if they feel they face a Libya-like situation, they would have the option of building a bomb."

Answer questions

Sir Richard, a former UK ambassador to Iran, said: "There are many signs, as reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that some research and development relevant to the development of nuclear weapons may still be going on.

"But it is wrong to say that Iran is rushing towards having a nuclear weapon.

"Indeed, the analysis published to the United States Congress by the top intelligence assessors there indicates that Iran has not taken a decision to have a nuclear weapon.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (second from left) on a tour of Tehran's nuclear facilities on 15 Feb 2010 Iran unveiled developments in its nuclear programme earlier this week

"But it is right that the IAEA should press Iran on behalf of the international community to answer fully questions about what it has been up to in the past and what it may still be doing in the present."

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: "Instead of raising the rhetoric, the government should be focused on redoubling their efforts to increase the diplomatic pressure on Iran and find a peaceful solution to the issue."

Meanwhile, Iranian warships have entered the Mediterranean Sea for only the second time since the 1979 revolution.

The destroyer Shahid Qandi and its supply vessel Kharg have passed through the Suez Canal but their destination remains unclear.

On Friday, the US and European Union expressed optimism at the possibility of a resumption of talks with Iran.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a letter from Iran to the US and its allies was "one we have been waiting for".

However, our correspondent said that while Iran had often offered to talk, Western diplomats complained it would steer discussions away from its nuclear programme to leave "parallel monologues" rather than negotiations.

Talks between Iran and six world powers - the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China - on Tehran's nuclear programme collapsed a year ago.

In recent months, Western countries have stepped up pressure on Iran over the nuclear issue, with the EU and US both introducing wide-ranging sanctions on the country.

On Wednesday, Iran staged an elaborate ceremony to unveil new developments in its nuclear programme, It said it had used domestically-made nuclear fuel in a reactor for the first time.

There are a number of sites at the centre of concerns over Iran's nuclear programme.

Map of Iranian nuclear sites Map of Iranian nuclear sites
 

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  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 429.

    If you remove oil from the equation, the middle east becomes an irrelevant side show. The straits of hormuz become just another patch of water and the gulf states a big patch of sand. Solution? Concentrate on developing renewable energy sources and take ourselves away from the polluting petrochemical dependency.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 428.

    The recent evnets by the oil and gas hungry western world and developing nations sickens me the core....and I served in the UK military for 19 years, it`s so transparent to me...`war on terror` is the new common enemy post Cold War and 9/11 is highly questionable too. When oil is finsihed as the prime energy source and facilitor of consumer capitilalism, it will be a good thing in my view!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 323.

    The stance by the west, personified here by Hague, is the belief that western culture is best. But it could be argued, that the freedom and democracy we are so keen to export, even at the point of a gun, creates instablity and insecurity for the many, but opportunities for the few. Look at the UK, EU and the US. Superior culture?

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 291.

    The problem with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is the sentiment of it's leadership towards Israel. It's supreme leader and president both openly make statements about the destruction of Israel and that in itself is reason enough to be very alarmed.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 290.

    1. Given it appears that "civil" nuclear technology can be used for military purposes, should we not embargo on the export of nuclear materials and technologies? Maybe then we should also begin dismantling our own?

    2. Can we really trust UK and US intelligence, given how unreliable it was given the Iraqi programme for weapons of mass destruction?

 

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