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UN chief urges Donald Trump not to scrap Iran nuclear deal

President Donald J. Trump and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres | The White House

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has urged Donald Trump not to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, saying that the Middle East would become an even more dangerous place if such an important diplomatic victory was thrown away with nothing better to replace it.

The US president is due to decide next week whether to withdraw from the agreement – by which Iran accepted nuclear inspections in return for a loosening of economic sanctions – despite intense political opposition from Tehran and the key European powers Britain, Germany and France.

“If one day there is a better agreement to replace it it’s fine, but we should not scrap it unless we have a good alternative,” Guterres said in an interview with BBC Radio 4.

“I believe the JCPOA [nuclear deal] was an important diplomatic victory and I think it will be important to preserve it, but I also believe there are areas in which it will be very important to have a meaningful dialogue because I see the region in a very dangerous position,” he said.

Guterres also said the risks of a confrontation between Israel and Iran “were there”, adding “we need to do everything to avoid those risks”.

The secretary general is in London for a three-day visit, where he is consulting on measures that might be taken to prevent paralysis at the UN security council due primarily to a breakdown in relations between Russia and the west.

Referring to US concerns about Iran’s wider behaviour, he said: “I understand the concerns of some countries in relation to the Iranian influence in other countries of the region. So I think we should separate things.”

The UK, France and Germany plan to keep campaigning to preserve the deal next week, and may even make common cause with Tehran to preserve the deal if Trump pulls out and allows US sanctions on Iran to be reimposed.

In a bid to satisfy Trump’s concerns, the three countries have already agreed to seek a supplementary deal with Iran that would cover Iran’s general behaviour in the region, its use of ballistic missiles and the future of the deal once it expires, the so-called sunset clause.

The former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw also intervened to urge Washington not to scrap the deal. “The great irony of president Trump’s position that it will do the opposite of what it intends. It will undermine president Hassan Rouhani and all those trying to reform Iran. It will also end all the restraints on a serious nuclear programme,” he said.

“I hope the European nations will actively cooperate to support regulations as they did in 1996 to protect their economies and firms from the impact of any American sanctions if they are imposed.”