Britain’s ‘firm’ commitment to Iran deal not seen breaking Gulf ties

UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

:: UK Prime Minister Theresa May reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to a 2015 Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday in a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump ahead of a key US decision on whether Tehran has stuck to the terms of the pact.

“The PM reaffirmed the UK’s strong commitment to the deal alongside our European partners, saying it was vitally important for regional security,” an e-mailed statement from May’s office said.

May’s commitment will have little impact on Britain’s relations with the US or Saudi Arabia, analysts and academics said.

On Monday, May also told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call that the UK was “firmly committed” to the deal. She said the agreement was “vitally important to regional security.”

Under a deal struck in 2015 between Iran and six world powers, Tehran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief.

May emphasized the importance of the deal in having “neutralized the possibility of Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons for more than a decade,” according to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office.

May’s stance is at odds with that of Donald Trump, who has indicated he may not re-certify the Iran deal. Trump has previously referred to the nuclear accord — which was signed by his predecessor Barack Obama — as an “embarrassment.”

May’s stance on the issue is a “low risk” move, said Scott Lucas, professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham.

“Most of Trump’s senior advisers all believe in the Iran deal. Trump is very much the outlier on this,” Lucas told Arab News.

Alexandra Kellert, European associate analyst at consultancy Control Risks, said May’s statement to Netanyahu shows a willingness to diverge from Trump on policy issues. “While the UK government is keen to maintain positive ties with the US in the hope of securing a trade deal after it leaves the EU, this does not mean that it will shy away from taking differing policy positions,” she said.

If Trump was to refuse to re-certify the agreement, US congress would then have to decide whether to reapply sanctions on Iran.

However, the current US president has failed to win much support for such a move — even from within his own administration.

“Obviously, European actors, including Britain, strongly disagree with the Trump administration on the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, key members of Trump’s security team also disagree with the president,” said Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.

May’s comments are unlikely to undermine the Kingdom’s relationship with the UK, Gerges added.

“I do not expect May’s new statement to have any impact on British-Saudi relations, which are strategic and transcend the Iran issue,” he said.

The UK’s reaffirmed position on Iran is unlikely to upset many in the Gulf, analysts said, even though Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have been highly critical of the Iranian regime, accusing the country of stirring regional instability.

“In terms of relations with other countries in the region, May’s commitment to the Iran deal does not represent a shift in policy and so should have limited bearing on the UK’s other regional relationships,” said Kellert.

Although some Gulf states had lobbied against the nuclear deal, May’s comments still address some of their concerns, said Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the think-tank Chatham House.

“Riyadh has recently emphasized the need for better monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and May is clearly reflecting that concern in her comments,” she said.

“But there is a strong consensus in the UK political establishment that the current nuclear deal is the best of the available options to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.”

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