Britain’s foreign secretary warned that Western states must deepen cooperation with regional allies to “constrain” Iran’s disruptive behaviour but rejected calls to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran in a high-profile foreign policy speech on Monday.
Boris Johnson spoke out against Iran’s pipeline of weapons to Houthi rebels Yemen, its meddling in Iraq and its “frankly astonishing” support for the Bashar Al Assad in the face of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people.
“Iran is engaged in disruptive behaviour in the region that we need to constrain,” he said. “We need to work very with our allies to push back on that.”
However Mr Johnson said despite Donald Trump’s refusal to recertify the accord, America would remain in the deal, which he said was an important component of nuclear non-proliferation.
"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 [deal] can be preserved."
Mr Johnson told the Chatham House conference that the nuclear deal was a platform for engagement with Iranians beyond the regime. Iranian regional transgressions should be seen as separate to the nuclear file.
“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," he said. "On the contrary, we should continue to work to demonstrate to that population that they will be better off under this deal and the path of reengagement that it prescribes."
President Donald Trump addressed Washington's frustration with his European partners opposition to his Iran policies and the commercial interests involved.
"I don't know what's going to happen with that deal," Mr Trump said on Sunday. "When they buy those things, it is a little harder," Trump said of French and German commercial dealings with Iran.
"I told them just keep making money," he added. "Don't worry. We don't need you on this one."
At the same time on a visit to Riyadh, Mr Tillerson said Saudi Arabia and America wanted much greater pressure on the Iranian economy to target Tehran’s cross-border interference. “Both of our countries believe that those who conduct business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, any of their entities — European companies or other companies around the globe — really do so at great risk,” he said. “We are hoping that European companies (and) countries and others around the world will join the US as we put in place a sanctions structure to prohibit certain activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.”
While taking issue with US policies on Iran, Mr Johnson praised Mr Tillerson’s handling of the North Korea crisis and the particular Washington’s promise alongside South Korea not to seek regime change with the overthrow of Kim Jong-un
“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,” he said. “That diplomacy has helped to make the world safer, more secure, more confident and therefore more prosperous.”
The former mayor of London said Mr Trump was right not to remove the threat of a nuclear strike against Pyongyang, even if a negotiated solution led by Beijing was the preferred outcome.
In a graphic allusion to the danger of a retreat from the architecture of nuclear non-proliferation, Mr Johnson raised the spectre of the world descending into a “nuclear version of the final scene of Reservoir Dogs,” one of Hollywood’s bloodiest movies. "The public can be forgiven for genuinely starting to wonder whether the nuclear sword of Damocles is once again held over the head of a trembling human race," he said.
Meanwhile the Iraqi prime minister’s media office responded on Monday to comments made by US secretary of state Mr Tillerson on the Iranian-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation paramilitary troops.
“No party has to the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” Haider Al Abadi’s media office said in a statement after Mr Tillerson said it was time for the Iran-supported militias and their Iranian advisers who helped Iraq defeat ISIL to “go home” from Iraq.
“Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” he said after a rare joint meeting with the leaders of Iraq and Saudi Arabia in Riyadh.
“The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control.”
The Popular Mobilisation Forces receives funding and training from Tehran and has been declared part of the Iraqi security apparatus.
Mr Abadi’s defiant tone was also reflected in comments by the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who said on Monday that his country had never been stronger in the Middle East.
“The greatness of the nation of Iran in the region is more than at any other time,” he said in a speech in Tehran, carried by the state broadcast.
"In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, northern Africa, in the Persian Gulf region -- where can action be taken without Iran?"