- Fears of a Middle East arms race if rogue state develops nuclear weapons
- U.S. warns a strike on Tehran is inevitable later this year
Last updated at 12:44 PM on 18th February 2012
Iran’s nuclear ambitions could plunge the world into ‘a new Cold War’ with the Middle East, Foreign Secretary William Hague warned today.
He predicted a nuclear arms race among rival Middle Eastern states that would carry the dangers without the safety mechanisms of the old rivalry between the West and the former USSR.
In an interview with The Telegraph, he insisted Britain did not back military action against the Islamic republic – as Israel is thought to be planning.
He told the newspaper: “If [the Iranians] obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons.
Stark warning: Foreign Secretary William Hague said Iran’s nuclear ambitions could trigger a ‘new Cold War’ that poses an even greater threat of nuclear conflict than the stand-off between the USSR and the West
‘And so the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun, with all the destabilising effects in the Middle East – and the threat of a new Cold War in the Middle East without necessarily all the safety mechansims.
‘That would be a disaster in world affairs.’
He said that Britain could be in range of Iranian nuclear weapons and that nuclear materials could fall into the hands of terrorists.
However he said all options must remain on the table when dealing with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime.
There is growing speculation among Western officials that Israel may be planning to launch military attacks against Iranian missile facilities this summer, ahead of the US presidential elections this autumn.
Several Israeli diplomats have been unsuccessfully targeted by Iranian hit squads around the world in the last few days.
The US has told Israel it does not want Israel to attack Iran. However, earlier this month US defence secretary Leon Panetta told the Washington Post that he thought the window for an attack on Iran by Israel is between April and June.
President Barack Obama has stressed that he wants to allow time for new sanctions to damage Iran’s ailing economy before turning to a military approach.
But other US officials believe sanctions will not work. An official knowledgeable in Middle East policy told The Guardian: ‘The guys in Tehran are behaving like sanctions don’t matter, like they’re economy isn’t collapsing, like Israel isn’t going to do anything. Sanctions are all we’ve got to throw at the problem. If they fail then it’s hard to see how we don’t move to the ‘in extremis’ position.’
In his comments to The Telegraph Mr Hague said that the British Government is ‘not favouring the idea of anybody attacking Iran at the moment.’ He added that they support a ‘twin-track’ strategy of sanctions and pressure, and negotiations on the other hand.’
But he added: ‘We are taking nothing off the table.’