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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Former UK defence secretary: 'we need a new deal to restrain Iran'

Michael Fallon calls out Iran for stepping up supply of arms to Yemen since the nuclear deal was signed three years ago

Sir Michael Fallon, former UK defence secretary. AFP
Sir Michael Fallon, former UK defence secretary. AFP

Iran has exploited the resources from the dismantling of the sanctions regime under the 2015 nuclear agreement to foment and prolong the conflict in Yemen, according to the man who stepped down as British defence secretary last year.

Sir Michael Fallon was the head of the ministry at the time the Iran deal was signed and during the launch of the operation to support Yemen’s government against the Houthi-led rebellion in April that year. The deal gave Iran the resources to sustain and deepen its role in providing supplies to the Houthi rebels.

The veteran Conservative MP has been the highest profile European politician to back US president Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement that almost three years ago removed sanctions on the Iranian economy in return for a freeze on Iran’s nuclear programme.

“They have used their new financial freedom to step up the supply of arms to the rebels in Yemen to facilitate attacks on Saudi Arabia,” he told The National from his parliamentary office in Westminster.

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“The new resources that were supposed to head Iran to a better future and modernise the economy have been diverted into hostile actions against the rest of the neighbourhood.

“Three years on it is necessary to admit the agreement has not worked. Iran has used its access to finance for ill not good.

“It was clearly not comprehensive and did not turn out to be joint because Iran didn’t cease its disruptive actions,” he said, in reference to the official name of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement.

Sir Michael cast doubt on the ability of European states to ring-fence their businesses from the renewed imposition of US sanctions. European foreign ministers met Mohammad Javad Zarif, their Iranian counterpart, in Paris on Tuesday to set assurances that deals would continue to flow to Iran.

Now a backbencher, Sir Michael clashed with Boris Johnson as the foreign secretary set out the government’s policy of working with the Iranians to salvage the pact from the US withdrawal.

“Boris says he understands the president’s analysis but he doesn’t concede it was a weak deal,” he said. “We need to come up with a new deal to close the gap and that includes the need to include ballistic missiles, the need for the overall elimination of nuclear weapons and the need to restrain Iranian interference in other sovereign countries.”

Having faced questions over British support for the Arab coalition in Yemen in parliament, Sir Michael sees the Iranian role as fundamentally misunderstood.

“People in the West have grown frustrated because they see the need for the aid to get into Yemen. They don’t see that much of it that did get in was being stolen by the Houthis,” he said. “People also don’t see the extent to which Saudi Arabian towns and villages have been shelled by weapons supplied by Iran. The Saudis continue to identify missiles of Iranian origin that have been fired over the border. We’ve seen plenty of evidence of these supplies moving to Yemen.”

Saudi Arabian and Western diplomats have repeatedly accused Iran – and by extension, Lebanon’s Hezbollah – of funding, arming and training the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a claim both have denied.