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Boris Johnson today called for the nuclear pact with Iran to be replaced with a new “Trump Deal” and said it was time to “dial down” tensions in the Middle East.
In a surprise intervention, the Prime Minister called on the US President to broker a new agreement to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons in return for sanctions being lifted.
His move was a tacit acknowledgement that the current deal, which America withdrew from in 2018, is no longer capable of keeping the peace in the region.
It comes after the US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner by Iranian forces.
“Well, if we are going to get rid of it let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump Deal. That’s what we need to see and I think that would be a great way forward,” Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast in his first TV interview of the year.
“President Trump is a great dealmaker ... Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and get the Trump Deal instead.”
In an appeal to all sides, Mr Johnson urged: “The most important thing now is that tensions in the region calm down. I don’t want a military conflict between us, and the United States and Iran. Let’s dial this thing down.”
Mr Johnson’s move took some observers by surprise.
Former British ambassador to the US Sir Peter Westmacott said: “You can call it what you like, though I personally wouldn’t replace a deal negotiated with Iran by six major countries with ‘a Trump deal’.”
He said no fresh deal would be feasible unless Washington relaxed sanctions imposed by Mr Trump.
A US government spokesman said Mr Trump would back a new deal only if it included new controls over Iran to stop the regime funding terrorist groups, fighting proxy wars and testing ballistic missiles.
However, Mr Johnson suggested that one of Mr Trump’s key objections to the current deal was that it was negotiated by President Barack Obama.
“The problem with the JCPOA as far as the Americans are concerned is that it’s a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by President Obama,” he said.
The problems with JCPOA were highlighted when it emerged that Britain, Germany and France are tomorrow set to invoke a dispute process, accusing Iran of failing to abide fully with its side of the bargain, including by breaching a 300kg limit on the amount of low enriched uranium it is allowed to stockpile. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was set to make a statement on the development in Parliament this afternoon. Iran’s judiciary today announced that arrests have been made for the shooting down of the airliner last week, killing all 176 on board.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani admitted that an “unforgivable error” had been made and said those responsible would be punished.
Mr Johnson said: “I’m glad they have accepted responsibility and identified it as an appalling mistake and it does appear that it was a mistake.
“It is very important that the bodies are repatriated in a dignified way and that the families are allowed to grieve and to have closure.
“Clearly, as President Rouhani has said, Iran made a terrible mistake. It is good they have apologised.”
He said Iranians could have a future as an ally of the West. “They are the prisoners of this government that they have ... we need to engage with the people of Iran and we need to show we can work for peace.”
He said Britain was playing “its traditional role, which is to serve as the bridge between the European powers and the United States”.
Mr Trump walked out of the JCPOA and has urged Britain to follow suit, saying it was failing to stop Iran funding terror and bullying other countries.
The US spokesman said: “The President has been quite clear that he wants to replace the JCPOA with a comprehensive programme that not only prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons but stops them from funding and supporting malign activity in the region and around the world.
“This includes funding for terrorist groups, proxy militias and testing of ballistic missiles.”
The 25-minuute BBC interview was carried out live in the Prime Minister’s study at No 10, and he also acknowledged that the chances of gaining justice for the family of Harry Dunn, who was allegedly killed by the wife of a US intelligence officer in a road collision, were “very low”.
The Home Office submitted an extradition request for Anne Sacoolas on Friday after she was charged with causing the 19-year-old’s death by dangerous driving outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire.
Harry’s family are campaigning for Mrs Sacoolas, who has claimed diplomatic immunity because of her husband’s job, to be returned to the UK to be tried.
The US State Department has said the extradition request is highly inappropriate. The Prime Minister said: “I think that it’s right that we made the appeal for extradition.” But he added: “I think the chances of America actually responding by sending Anne Sacoolas to this country are very low. That’s not what they do.”
The PM promised he would bring forward a plan to deal with the crisis in social care later this year.
He claimed his 80-seat majority would allow his Government to “get on with it” but did not supply any details of how a scheme would work. “We have got to think very carefully about how we do it because there are lots of quite important moral and social issues contained in it ...
“The key thing is that everybody must have safety and security in their old age, nobody should sell their home to pay for the cost of that care. We will do that.”
Mr Johnson said he wanted to see county lines drugs gangs closed down and said it was “epically likely” that the UK would strike a comprehensive trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020.
He cautioned: “You always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense”.