War clouds could loom over Iran if Trump forces nuclear issue, warns expert

Li Jiayao

LONDON, May 31 (Xinhua) -- A British scholar on the nuclear fall-out between U.S. President Donald Trump and Iran has warned that war clouds could loom over the Middle East state in their ongoing stand-off.

In an interview with Xinhua, Dr. Steven Hurst from Manchester Metropolitan University said that Trump may order strikes if the Iranians restart their nuclear weapons program.

Hurst, from the department of history, politics and philosophy at the university, believes that the risk in the region will prompt Britain and the European Union to continue to work together, despite Brexit.

Britain, France and Germany, the so-called EU3 group, were mandated to negotiate the deal on behalf of all 28 member states of the EU bloc.

In 2015, Iran signed a long-term deal on its nuclear program with the world's major countries -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit sensitive nuclear activities and allow access to international inspectors. In return, crippling economic sanctions against Iran would be lifted.

Trump, citing an election pledge in his presidential campaign, sent shockwaves across the world earlier in May when he withdrew U.S. support for the deal.

Hurst, who has studied U.S. policy on the nuclear situation in Iran since 2011, said he had expected Trump's decision, but not the immediacy of it.

He had expected some kind of action that allowed for the deal to be revised, perhaps by putting pressure on the EU to negotiate a better nuclear deal with Iran.

Hurst believes Britain will stand by the deal reached with Iran as there is no better alternative for the British government.

"Brexit shouldn't get in the way as it is relatively straight forward and there is no obvious conflict over Iran between the UK and the EU," Hurst told Xinhua.

"In that regard, Britain and the EU cooperating over Iran should not be affected by Brexit. They are on the same sheet," he added.

British interests, he believes, will almost certainly be affected by Trump's decision, which is another reason Britain should stick with the EU on the issue.

"Some companies may decide to pull out of Iran, some will no doubt feel they earn more money with their business in Iran than in the United States. But the insurance and banking sectors could be hit as they operate on a global platform, and they are the most likely to pull out of Iran to avoid U.S. sanctions," said Hurst.

On whether there will be a chance of some accommodation being brokered if Britain and the EU stand together, Hurst said he does not believe the situation will be resolved any time soon.

"Without the United States, the negotiated deal will eventually break down with the Iranians walking away from it," he predicted.

"U.S. support for the deal was important, and necessary, mainly because of the security it offered Iran," he said. The Iranians might now wonder why they should maintain a deal that brings fewer benefits to the country, said Hurst.

"The logical thing for them is to dismantle the deal and restart their nuclear program all over again if there is no economic benefit from continuing with the deal. Such a move would antagonize Trump, but that is the risk. Even the more moderate Iranians think this is the thing to do," he added.

Hurst said the situation is not quite disastrous, "but is heading towards that end of the spectrum."

"This will make military conflict more likely. The sanctions between 2010 and 2013 were effective but they still didn't force complete compliance from Iran."

Under the deal signed by former U.S. President Barack Obama, Iran was allowed to continue nuclear processing, but there was a red line to stop the development of nuclear weapons, said Hurst.

He adds that for Trump there are few options.

"If renewed sanctions do not secure what Trump wants then military action in the form of air and missile strikes on nuclear installations will be the only option left to contain Iran's nuclear program," said Hurst.

That fear, said Hurst, is one of the reasons Britain wants to keep alive the prospect of continuing with the accord.

"It is a case of watching this space with some trepidation," said Hurst, who later this year will publish a book on the relationship between the United States and the Iranian nuclear program.



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