May 07, 2018
UK foreign secretary also writes op ed for New York Times
Trump has 12 May deadline to re-certify or abandon deal
Boris Johnson uses Fox & Friends to urge Trump to stay in Iran deal
Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, pleaded with Donald Trump not to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal on Monday. Johnson, in the US but not scheduled to meet Trump in person, appealed instead via an op ed in the New York Times and a more direct channel: an appearance on Fox & Friends, the president’s news show of choice.
The deadline for Trump to re-certify the deal falls on Saturday, 12 May. Also on Monday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani suggested Iran could remain in the pact if the US dropped out. Speaking live on state TV, Rouhani said “getting rid of America’s mischievous presence will be fine for Iran” if other signatories continue to be committed.
Johnson appeared on Fox after the controversial TV medic Dr Oz, who has just been appointed to Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition alongside New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno.
“The president is right to see flaws in [the deal] and he set a very reasonable challenge to the world,” said Johnson, offering praise of the president that he would repeat. “He said, ‘Look, Iran is behaving badly, has a tendency to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to push back on what Iran is doing in the region. We’ve got to be tougher.’”
Johnson pleaded with Trump not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and pledged to work with him to improve the deal. Elements which needed fixing, he said, included the “sunset clause” that meant “after 2025, the current deal allows Iran to go forward fast with enrichment programmes which could lead to a nuclear weapon, and no sanctions go back on”.
If Trump did scrap the deal, Johnson said, he would have to answer the question “what next?”. Johnson asked: “Are we seriously saying that we will bomb those facilities … is that really a realistic possibility?”
Unlike the French president, Emmanuel Macron – who this weekend said scrapping the deal could lead to war – and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, Johnson was not scheduled to meet Trump. He was instead to sit down with vice-president Mike Pence and Trump’s new national security adviser, the Bush-era hawk John Bolton.
Under assertive questioning from Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, Johnson tried to warn of the consequences of attacking Iran, a course Bolton has supported.
“Let me just remind you,” he said, “if they do get a nuclear weapon you’re going to get an arms race in the middle east. You’re going to have the Saudis wanting one, the Egyptians wanting one, the Emiratis. It’s already a very, very dangerous state at the moment, we don’t want to go down that road. There doesn’t seem to me at the moment to be a viable military solution.”
Johnson also defended the terms and operations of the deal, saying Iran was not just being “trusted” and was in compliance according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “excellent presentation” on supposed Iranian contravention of the deal last week only “went up to 2003”.
In his piece for the New York Times, Johnson began by quoting Winston Churchill – about whom he has written a book and a bust of whom Trump placed in the Oval Office with much fanfare at the start of his presidency.
“Churchill’s famous conclusion was that democracy constituted the ‘worst form of government – except for all those other forms that have been tried’,” Johnson wrote. “…So it is with the Iran nuclear agreement that President Trump is now reviewing.”
The deal has “weaknesses, certainly”, Johnson wrote, saying Britain was working with Germany, France and the US to remedy them. But, he added: “Do not forget how this agreement has helped to avoid a possible catastrophe.”
Johnson listed restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear programme, which he called “handcuffs”. “I see no possible advantage in casting them aside,” he wrote. “Only Iran would gain from abandoning the restrictions on its nuclear programme.”
Johnson praised Trump’s statements on Iran and said Britain “shares his concerns about Iran’s support for terrorist groups, its behaviour in cyberspace and its long-range missile program”.
He also appealed to Trump’s pride in progress made with a nuclear-armed state, North Korea. He also, perhaps dangerously, seemed to claim a portion of credit.
“We all played our part in helping the Trump administration maximize the pressure on North Korea,” Johnson wrote, “a strategy that now appears to be bearing fruit.”
In his speech on Monday, Rouhani said: “If we can get what we want from a deal without America, then Iran will continue to remain committed to the deal. What Iran wants is our interests to be guaranteed by its non-American signatories … In that case, getting rid of America’s mischievous presence will be fine for Iran.”
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