Iran’s nuclear ambitions could plunge the Middle East into “a new Cold War”, the UK foreign secretary has warned.

Interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, William Hague said if Iran developed nuclear weapons then “other nations across the Middle East will want to”.

Mr Hague has said sanctions against Iran are designed to prevent conflict

Without “the safety mechanisms” of the US-USSR rivalry, Mr Hague said it would be “a disaster in world affairs”.

The West suspects Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists its programme is for energy purposes.

Mr Hague told the newspaper there was a “crisis coming down the tracks”.

“If [the Iranians] obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons.

“And so, the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun with all the destabilising effects in the Middle East.”

‘Twin-track strategy’

His comments come amid heightened tensions in the Middle East, with Israel accusing Iran of masterminding attacks on its embassies in India, Thailand and Georgia. Iran denies the allegations.

Speaking earlier this month, US President Barack Obama emphasised that Israel and the US were working in “unison” to counter Iran.

However, some commentators have suggested that behind the scenes Washington is deeply alarmed by reports that Israel may strike Iran as early as April. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly said there was a strong likelihood of such an offensive.

Insisting that Britain did not back military action against Iran, Mr Hague told the Telegraph: “We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand.

“All options must remain on the table” but a military attack would have “enormous downsides”, he said.


Meanwhile, on Friday, the US and European Union expressed optimism at the possibility of a resumption of talks with Iran.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a letter from Iran to the US and its allies was “one we have been waiting for”.

Talks between Iran and six world powers – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – on Tehran’s nuclear programme collapsed a year ago.

In recent months, Western countries have stepped up pressure on Iran over the nuclear issue, with the EU and US both introducing wide-ranging sanctions on the country.

Addressing Parliament in January, Mr Hague said the aim of the EU oil embargo was to get Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear plans.

The foreign secretary ordered the expulsion of Iran’s diplomats from Britain after an attack on its Tehran embassy in November last year. All UK diplomatic staff in Tehran were also evacuated and Britain’s embassy closed.



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