British FM: Israel wants permanent standoff with Iran

Philip Hammond to visit Jerusalem to allay PM’s fears, says no deal with Tehran would have satisfied Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told parliament Tuesday that Israel would not have been satisfied with any agreement world powers reached with Iran, and announced he was heading to Israel to personally explain the nuclear deal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv. The answer of course is that Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran,” Hammond told lawmakers ahead of his visit.

“Israel wants a permanent state of standoff, and I don’t believe that’s in the interests of the region. I don’t believe it’s in our interest,” Hammond said.

Dismissing Israeli objections to the agreement struck between Tehran and world powers on Tuesday, Hammond said he would speak to Netanyahu on Thursday “to convey our message about this deal directly.”

Britain is one of the six world powers — along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — that struck the agreement with Iran after a 13-year standoff over its disputed nuclear program.

In return for curbs on its nuclear program for at least 10 years, Iran will be freed from Western and UN sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Israel has slammed the deal as a “historic mistake.” Netanyahu had called for a “better deal” that would have dismantled Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Still, Hammond said he was confident that Israel would be “pragmatic” in dealing with the “new reality” in the Middle East, and voiced hope that Britain could reopen its embassy in Tehran this year.

“I am going tonight to Israel and will have a chance to convey our message about this deal directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow,” Hammond said.

“He has made clear that he intends to fight it all the way and that Israel will seek to use its influence in the US Congress to obstruct the progress of the deal. I am confident that that action will not succeed.

“I am also confident that Israel has shown, time and again, that it can be pragmatic and that once it has exhausted that avenue of opportunity, that it will seek to engage in a sensible and pragmatic way to deal with the new reality on the ground in the Middle East, to the benefit of everyone.”

The agreement is aimed at ensuring Iran does not obtain a nuclear bomb, in return for opening up Tehran’s sanctions-stricken economy.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel was not bound by the deal, signaling that he remained ready to order military action.

He believes the deal will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons that could be used to target Israel.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday also slammed Netanyahu’s response to what he called the “responsible deal” with Iran, calling the prime minister’s criticisms “crude” and urging him to read its clauses.

Netanyahu said in the Knesset on Wednesday that he had read the deal, and the more he read, the worse it got.

US President Barack Obama told Netanyahu on Tuesday that the Iran nuclear deal was in Israel’s national interest and dispatched his defense secretary to the Jewish state for talks.

Ash Carter will travel to Israel next week.

Plans to reopen Britain’s embassy in Tehran, which was stormed by protesters in 2011, were announced last year but progress has been slow.

“There are some technical issues, as I’ve explained to the House before, on both sides that will have to be resolved before it can be done,” Hammond said on Wednesday.

“I very much hope that we will be in a position to reopen our respective embassies before the end of this year, and I look forward to going to Tehran to do so,” he said.

Diplomatic ties between Iran and Britain, the former colonial power, were strained long before the closure of the embassy in 2011.

There has been a string of major flare-ups in recent decades including over a fatwa issued against British author Salman Rushdie by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 and the seizure of 15 British sailors by an Iranian naval patrol in the northern Gulf in 2007.

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