(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it’s time to strike a new nuclear deal with Iran, breaking ranks with European allies France and Germany, which are still trying to preserve the 2015 agreement President Donald Trump withdrew from last year.
“Whatever your objections to the old nuclear deal with Iran, it’s time now to move forward and do a new deal,” Johnson told Sky News on Monday in New York, where he’s attending the United Nations General Assembly.
Johnson also suggested it’s “plainly” clear that Iran was responsible for attacks this month on key oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, pulling into line with the Trump administration’s assessment. “How do we respond to what the Iranians plainly did?” Johnson said. “What the U.K. is doing is trying to bring people together and de-escalate tensions.”
Iran has denied being involved in the attacks on two Saudi Aramco facilities, which were quickly claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition for four years.
After Trump quit the nuclear deal with Iran, the other nations participating in it -- the U.K., Germany, France, Russia and China -- vowed to stand by the accord. But they have failed so far to find a way to sidestep increasingly tough U.S. economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and Iran has begun to breach the agreement’s limits on its nuclear program.
Trump has vowed to seek a more stringent accord that would bar Iran permanently from the capability to develop nuclear weapons while also curbing its ballistic missile program and its support for groups, such as Hezbollah, that the U.S. considers terrorists.
U.K. officials sought to moderate Johnson’s comments. “The prime minister supports the JCPOA,” his office said in a statement, referring to the existing Iran deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The Iranians aren’t currently in compliance, and we need to bring them back into compliance. If there’s a way to do that, we’re open to discussing possible solutions.”
Trump had already expressed delight with Johnson’s remarks, telling reporters, “I respect Boris a lot and I’m not at all surprised he was the first one to come out and see that.” He said Johnson is “a man who, No. 1, he’s a friend of mine, and No. 2, he’s very smart, very tough.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier Monday that “the oil attacks change the situation, but France remains just as determined.”
He told reporters at the UN that he’s continuing to work on calming tension between Iran and the U.S. even as he inched closer to saying Iran may have been behind the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities.
“There are indications that a state actor may have been involved, given the sophistication,” Macron said, although he stopped short of saying who was responsible until Saudi Arabia completed its investigation.
Macron said he had a quick talk with Trump on Monday morning on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting about climate, and will see him again Tuesday, though the White House hasn’t confirmed any meeting with the French president. Macron said he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later Monday, a session confirmed by Iranian officials.
“You know the work France has done the past months to make propositions to seek a de-escalation,” Macron said. “We need to get all the partners to sit around a table.” He said the subjects that needed to be discussed are maintaining 2015 accord, what happens after the accord expires, Iran’s ballistic missile program and its involvement in regional crises such as Syria and Yemen.
(Updates with U.K. saying Johnson supports existing deal in seventh paragraph)
--With assistance from Josh Wingrove, Alex Morales and David Wainer.
To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at firstname.lastname@example.org;Gregory Viscusi in Paris at email@example.com
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