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Britain tries to save Iran nuclear deal by sending Boris Johnson to Washington

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson is heading to the White House to push for the US to maintain the Obama-era accord as President Donald Trump’s deadline looms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2018, 4:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2018, 4:18am

The fate of the Iran nuclear deal remained in the balance on Sunday, as the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, travelled to Washington for a series of meetings with the Trump administration in an attempt to keep the agreement intact.

US President Donald Trump, a fierce critic of the deal, has until 12 May to decide if he will again waive sanctions against Iran in exchange for limitations on its nuclear ambitions.

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In January, the last time he signed off on the pact, the president warned that it faced a “last chance”. Trump has called for stricter measures, including curbing Iran’s access to ballistic missiles.

Speaking to CBS on Sunday, Britain’s ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, said: “The message we are hearing from all contacts in this administration is that although the president’s views on the deal are very clear and have been out there for months and months, and in fact for years, that a final decision hasn’t been taken.”

On Saturday, however, the UK’s Observer revealed that aides to Trump hired an Israeli private intelligence firm to conduct a “dirty ops” campaign against key negotiators from the Obama administration in an attempt to undermine the deal.

Johnson was not expected to meet Trump in Washington, but was expected to meet Vice-President Mike Pence and the national security adviser, John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who has long criticised the deal.

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The foreign secretary is the last representative of the so-called “EU three” – France, Germany and Britain, key allies in negotiating the deal in 2015 – to meet with the administration before the deadline.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, have lobbied Trump directly.

Barack Obama’s second secretary of state, John Kerry, who secured the agreement after years of negotiations, has quietly been involved in talks.

According to reports, Kerry met the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, at the United Nations two weeks ago to discuss how the pact, among the most significant foreign policy achievements of the Obama years, could be salvaged.

Republicans, including, on Sunday, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have claimed that in doing so Kerry violated the Logan Act of 1799, which bars private citizens from conducting diplomatic work.

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On Sunday, Macron warned of grave consequences if the US abandoned the deal. “We would open the Pandora’s box,” the French president told the German magazine Der Spiegel. “There could be war.”

He added: “I don’t think that Donald Trump wants war.”

Iran’s president, Hassan Rowhani, said Trump would face “historic regret” if he pulled out of the deal. In an address on state TV, Rowhani said his government would “counter any decision Trump may take and we will confront it”.

Darroch reiterated that the UK planned to remain in the deal, which also includes China and Russia, should the US pull out.

“Plan A is that the US stays in the deal,” he said. “That’s what we’re working towards. But, of course, we are looking at all the eventualities.

“My government has said that as long as Iran is in compliance with the deal and wants to stick with it, that will be our position as well.

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“We will be looking at options for maintaining the deal, which we hope they will, should the US administration choose to withdraw.”

The Observer reported that according to leaked documents, Ben Rhodes, a senior national security aide to Obama, and Colin Kahl, a deputy assistant, were targeted by the Israeli firm hired by Trump aides in May last year.

Responding to the report, Kahl posted a series of tweets on Saturday evening in which he discussed suspicious emails he said his wife received around the time he was targeted.

His wife was approached, Kahl said, by an individual from the UK claiming to represent a private equity firm interested in including their daughter’s school in a funding network.

At the time, his wife was serving on the fundraising committee of the school; the individual requested a meeting in Washington.

Deciding the emails appeared to be an approach by foreign intelligence, the couple stopped responding.

“Perhaps it was just a coincidence that this obvious scam targeting my family had all the hallmarks of an intel op and coincided with Team Trump’s reported efforts to ‘dig up dirt’ on me,” Kahl wrote.

“But the fact that I even have to think about the possibility that my family was targeted by people working for the president is yet another sign of the fundamental degradation of our country that Trump has produced.”