British FM joins appeal to Israel: ‘Don’t hit Iran’

PM avoids subject in speech to American Jewish leaders in J'lem after meeting with US National Security Adviser Donilon.

February 20, 2012 00:40
3 minute read.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague

British Foreign Secretary William Hague 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Jeff Overs-BBC/handout)


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British Foreign Secretary William Hague advised Israel on Sunday not to attack Iran, saying that the international sanctions against Iran should be given a chance to work.

His comments in a BBC interview came as US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem for talks focused on Iran.

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the US put out a statement after that two-hour meeting, and Netanyahu said nothing about it – or the Iranian nuclear program – at a speech immediately after the meeting at the opening of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem.

Donilon also met with Maj.- Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, his Israeli counterpart. He is scheduled to meet Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday before returning to Washington.

Donilon’s visit is taking place just two weeks before Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Washington for AIPAC’s annual policy conference, and for an expected meeting with US President Barack Obama, where Iran is likely to dominate the discussion.

Hague, meanwhile, said he did not think “the wise thing at the moment” would be for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat

“I think Israel, like everyone else in the world, should be giving a real chance to the approach we adopted: very serious economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and the readiness to negotiate with Iran,” he said.

Hague said that there were two possibilities if Iran went ahead with its nuclear program.

“Either, they [Iran] will be attacked, and there will be a war, or there would be a cold war, in which Iran for the long term would be subject to very intensive economic sanctions. They would find that other nations in their region developed nuclear regions, and they would be in permanent standoff with those countries.”

This would be “like the Cold War, but without many of the safeguards against accidents and misunderstandings that we had in the Cold War,” he said.

Hague’s comments came the same day that CNN aired an interview with the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said an Israeli attack on Iran would be “destabilizing” and “not prudent.”

Meanwhile, UN nuclear inspectors headed to Iran on Sunday for talks.

“We hope to have a couple of good and constructive days in Tehran,” Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Vienna airport, as the five-member team prepared to depart.

“The highest priority remains, of course, the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program,” he told reporters, making clear he wanted to see concrete results in the discussions with Iranian officials.

Western diplomats have played down any hopes of a major breakthrough in the February 20-21 meeting, even though it comes just a few days after signs of a possible opening for diplomacy in the long-running nuclear dispute.

“I’m still pessimistic that Iran will demonstrate the substantive cooperation necessary,” one envoy said.

The outcome, after an inconclusive first round of discussions last month, could determine whether the international standoff over Iran’s uranium enrichment program escalates further or tensions reduce.

But the US and EU expressed cautious optimism on Friday over prospects that Iran may be willing to engage major powers in new talks. They stressed that any resumed negotiations must be sustained and focus on the nuclear issue.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Iran’s letter to Ashton last week might mark a step forward.

Iran’s letter to Ashton – who handles contact with Iran on behalf of the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – proposed resuming the talks and said Tehran would have “new initiatives” to bring to the table.

“In these negotiations, we are looking for a way out of Iran’s current nuclear issue so that both sides win,” Iranian state television quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying on Sunday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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