IRAN’s nuclear ambitions could plunge the world into “a new Cold War” even more dangerous that the stand-off between the West and the USSR, Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned.
He said that if Iran successfully develops its own weapons, it would inevitably prompt neighbouring countries also to arm themselves in a new nuclear arms race.
But, he added, unlike the stand-off between East and West which ended with the fall of the USSR, this time there would be no “safety mechanism”.
His comments come amid diplomatic fears that a full-scale conflict between Iran and Israel is now only a matter of weeks away.
Western diplomats believe Israel could be preparing for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the summer fearing if they leave it too late, the weapons will be hidden too deep underground.
Iran claims its nuclear developments are for peaceful purposes, but in a frank interview on the emerging situation, Hague said there was a “crisis coming down the tracks” that could result in “disaster” for world affairs.
“[The Iranians] are clearly continuing their nuclear weapons programme,” he said. “If they obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle-East will want to develop nuclear weapons.”
“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 mechanisms. That would be a disaster in world affairs.”
Hague said he would be continuing with his own preferred strategy towards Iran of sanctions and negotiations. He also urged Israel not to attack Iran saying that such a move would have “enormous downsides”.
However, he was careful also to add that there was “nothing off the table” in terms of the country’s options towards Iran. He said that Britain has “to be concerned” that it could end up in range of an Iranian nuclear bomb, or that its weapons material ends up in the hands of terrorists.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that the country had loaded its first domestically made fuel rod into a nuclear reactor.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “The risks of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons are real. Instead of raising the rhetoric, the Government should be focused on redoubling their efforts to increase the diplomatic pressure on Iran and find a peaceful solution.”