Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during a speech this morning at Chatham House underlined the importance of diplomacy and dialogue as the only tried and tested way to avoid nuclear war; on this basis the Foreign Secretary discussed a number of pressing issues, one of which was the Iran Nuclear Deal.
To grasp the importance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we should remember that just before it was signed in 2015, Iran had enough centrifuges and low-enriched uranium to be only months away from producing the essential material for at least one nuclear weapon.
Let us remember what the consequences would have been – for Iran and the world – if Tehran had gone down that road.
Never mind the response of Israel, or indeed the United States to the fact of nuclear weapons in the grip of the Iranians, a regime that has been capable of blood-curdling rhetoric about the mere existence of the ‘Zionist entity’.
A nuclear-armed Iran would have placed irresistible pressure on neighbouring countries to up the ante, and to trigger an arms race in what is already one of the most volatile regions of the world.
Imagine all those mutually contaminating sectarian, dynastic and internecine conflicts of the Middle East today. Then turn the dial, and add a nuclear arms race.
Think of the nightmare that deal has avoided.
It is a nightmare we can continue to avoid if we are sensible, if we show the same generosity and wisdom as the negotiators of the NPT.
And first and most important it is vital to understand that President Trump has not withdrawn from the JCPOA. He has not junked it.
He has continued to waive nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, and having spoken to some of the most influential figures on Capitol Hill – none of them fans of the Iranian regime – I have absolutely no doubt that with determination and courage the JCPOA can be preserved.
This is not just because the essential deal is in the interests of Western security – though it is – but because it is profoundly in the interests of the Iranian people.
This is a great nation, of 80 million people – 2 thirds of whom are under the age of 30.
They are highly educated, both men and women.
They watch Youtube; they dance to music videos, even if it is in the privacy of their own home.
They use and understand technology and they are bursting with a capitalist and entrepreneurial spirit.
If we can show them that they are welcome in the great global market-place of ideas and innovation then, in time, a very different relationship is possible with the modern heirs, of what is after all, one of the greatest of all ancient civilisations.
That is the possibility the JCPOA holds open – not just averting a perilous and debilitating arms race, but ending the long and largely self-imposed exclusion of Iran from the global mainstream that so many millions of Iranians yearn to join.
Of course, we in the UK, we share with our American friends and with many of our allies – in Europe and across the Middle East – their legitimate concern over the disruptive behaviour of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in countries hundreds of miles from their borders.
It is simply provocative and dangerous that Iran has supplied tens of thousands of rockets and missiles to Hizbollah in Lebanon – weapons that are even now pointing at Israel – but whose use would bring the most destructive retaliation not upon Iran – the responsible party – but upon the people of Lebanon.
It is no conceivable benefit to the tormented people of Yemen that Iran should be supplying missiles that Houthi rebels use routinely to strike targets in Saudi Arabia; behaviour which alas can only strengthen the convictions of those in the region who believe they have no choice but to respond to Iran’s actions.
And frankly it’s astonishing that the Iranians – who rightly complain that the world looked the other way when they suffered so tragically from the chemical weapons deployed by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s – should even now be abetting and concealing the crimes of Bashar al-Asad who has used the same methods against his own people.
So I think it’s right that we should join with our American friends and allies to counter this kind of behaviour wherever possible. But that does not mean for one minute that we should write Iran off, or that we should refuse to engage with Iran or that we should show disrespect to its people.
On the contrary, we should continue to work to demonstrate to that population in Iran that they will be better off under this deal and the path of re-engagement that it prescribes. And that is the model – of toughness but engagement, each reinforcing the other – that we should have at the front of our mind as we try to resolve the tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
It is right that Rex Tillerson has specifically opened the door to dialogue. He has tried to give some sensible reassurances to the regime, to enable them to take up this offer.