Hammond: Tehran a Potential Ally in Anti-Terror Fight

Hammond: Tehran a Potential Ally in Anti-Terror FightHammond: Tehran a Potential Ally in Anti-Terror Fight

Britain's foreign secretary said Monday Iran is a major regional player that can be an ally in fighting terrorism.

Tehran and world powers struck a deal last month on Iran's nuclear program, and on Sunday Britain and Iran reopened their embassies after several years.

Philip Hammond, who met top-level Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday and Monday, told the BBC that "Iran is too large a player, too important a player in this region, to simply leave in isolation."

  Timeline for Sanctions Removal

In a separate interview with Reuters on Monday, he said international sanctions on Iran could start to be lifted as early as spring next year.

The six major powers (the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) agreed in July to lift sanctions in return for Iran accepting restrictions on its nuclear program for specified durations.

Hammond said he expected Iran and the US could endorse the deal by October. Combined with Iran meeting its commitments in the agreement, that could see the start of trade restrictions being lifted.

"We could be talking as early as next spring to start to see sanctions lifting off," he said.

Eyeing deals between British firms and Iran, Hammond said preparatory work should be done ahead of lifting sanctions so investment can start to flow as soon as the measures are removed.

"There is very clear pitch here not to wait until then," he said. "There are things that can't be done. Investments can't be made, items can't be imported or exported or whatever. But the business negotiation can start to take place well ahead of that."

  Fundamental Differences  

Hammond said Britain still had fundamental differences with Iran over the long-running conflict in Syria, where Tehran supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"The thing we disagree on is the role of one single person, Bashar al-Assad, in this process," he said.

"The Iranians take the view that… without Assad there cannot be a political process…We take a different view."

However, Hammond stressed that any form of dialogue between the West and Iran over Syria should be taken as a positive.

"If we are going to get to a political solution we have to have the Iranians and the Russians engaged in that process too."

Hammond said President Hassan Rouhani, with whom he held talks, had sent strong signals that he wanted dialogue and Iran wanted to turn a page in its relations with the West.

He also said during the trip to Tehran, the first by a British foreign secretary since 2003, he detected a willingness to move on from "some very difficult history."

"I sense we are seen now more as part of Europe – a European country with whom Iran will be engaging alongside France, Germany, Italy and others – and less of the imperial Britain of the past with its legacy of involvement in Iran and the region."