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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Tillerson says progress made on strengthening Iranian nuclear deal

The US secretary of state was visiting the UK after Donald Trump issued an ultimatum to European allies over the Iran deal

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his US counterpart Rex Tillerson met in London to discuss issues including Iran and Syria. (Photo by Jack Hill - WPA Pool / Getty Images)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his US counterpart Rex Tillerson met in London to discuss issues including Iran and Syria. (Photo by Jack Hill - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said progress had been made in securing European support for new penalties against Tehran that could prevent the US from pulling out of the landmark Iranian nuclear deal in the spring

The US, Germany, Britain and France were considering a plan to approach Iran with a “side agreement” that could fix “flaws” in the main deal, Mr Tillerson told reporters during a short visit to the UK.

"We will be discussing that through working groups beginning as early as next week and we will see what progress we can make," he said after meeting with the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Donald Trump said last month that he would stop waiving US sanctions unless the Europeans agreed to strengthen its terms. He has repeatedly criticised the “bad deal” secured by his predecessor Barack Obama. The deal gives Iran billions in sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its atomic programme.

Mr Tillerson highlighted Iran’s ballistic missile programme not being covered by the nuclear deal as one of the specific concerns.

Mr Johnson said that Britain was committed to doing what it could with its partners but said it was important not to fundamentally affect the main deal that is backed by Britain and the European Union.

Mr Tillerson will next travel to France where President Emmanuel Macron warned earlier this month that hardline policies being adopted against Iran could potentially lead to war.

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Read more:

French minister to discuss missile programme and nuclear deal with Iran

Iran says it will retaliate against any new US sanctions

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Earlier Monday, Mr Tillerson visited the new $1 billion US embassy in London where he was met by the ambassador Woody Johnson. A planned meeting with embassy staffers was cancelled owing to the US government shutdown.

The visit came less then two weeks after Donald Trump cancelled a trip to London in February to cut the ribbon on the new building claiming that it represented a bad financial deal.

Mr Trump had blamed the Obama administration for selling the “best located and finest embassy in London” for “peanuts”. The decision had been agreed in 2008 during the presidency of George W. Bush.

UK commentators, including the former opposition leader Ed Miliband, had suggested that Mr Trump had cancelled the trip because of the likelihood of protests.

Theresa May, the British premier, is expected to meet Mr Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this week.

There were suggestions that the president was unhappy after the Prime Minister publicly criticised him last year for retweeting inflammatory videos posted by a far-right British group.

Mr Tillerson said the US continued to "treasure" its transatlantic ties with the UK. "We also view this as the special relationship. It has been and will be," he said.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the world's problems. Sometimes we forget about the importance of our own relationship.”