Jeremy Hunt has insisted that the Iran nuclear deal is not yet dead.
The Foreign Secretary said there was a “small window” of hope for preventing the international agreement aimed at stopping Tehran gaining nuclear weapons from unravelling.
Speaking on his way into a Brussels meeting of EU foreign ministers on the issue, Mr Hunt said of the agreement: “Well, it isn’t dead yet.
“And we are totally committed to keeping the Middle East denuclearised.
“If Iran acquires nuclear weapons then other countries in the region will acquire nuclear weapons.
“It becomes a very, very toxic and dangerous situation.
“We are looking to find a way to preserve the nuclear deal.
“Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear weapon.
“We think there is still some closing but small window to keep the deal alive, and that’s what I’m here to talk about.
“What we are looking for is to give Iran a way out of this so that they can get back into compliance with that nuclear deal.”
The comments came as the US urged European allies to take a tougher stance on Iran after US president Donald Trump pulled America out of the nuclear deal with Tehran.
Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, said: “I think that the time for reflection is over.
“I think it’s time to act, and by acting, I mean that our European friends should join the US in unequivocally condemning Iran’s actions with respect to their malign activities, not just in the Strait of Hormuz but throughout the world, and bring them back to the table to discuss a comprehensive negotiation over all of their activities, including currently being the world’s lead state sponsor of terror, plotting attacks in Europe, their missile development programme and their general Middle East aggression.”
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he dismissed as “complete nonsense” an assessment by Sir Kim Darroch that Mr Trump decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in an act of spite because it was agreed by his predecessor Barack Obama.
Sir Kim resigned as UK ambassador to Washington after his sensitive diplomatic dispatches were leaked, and Mr Sondland said Mr Trump’s approach to the Iran deal had been “very, very thoughtful”.
Mr Hunt’s attendance at the EU summit comes after he offered to help secure the release of the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, held in Gibraltar after being detained in an operation involving British Royal Marines.
In a telephone call with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday, Mr Hunt sought to reassure him the vessel was intercepted over suspicions it was carrying oil to Syria – and not because it was Iranian.
He said he had offered to facilitate the tanker’s release in return for guarantees from Tehran that it would not breach EU sanctions on the Assad regime.
The move comes amid heightened tensions in the Gulf.
Last week, a Royal Navy warship intervened to drive off Iranian patrol boats after they approached a British tanker as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz.
It prompted fears the Iranians were trying to seize a UK ship in retaliation for the detention of the Grace 1.
It was the latest in a series of incidents in the region, prompting fears of a slide into all-out conflict.
In recent weeks, the US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East.
Iran, meanwhile, has begun exceeding limits on uranium enrichment agreed in the 2015 deal amid frustration in Tehran at the return of crippling US economic sanctions.
While the Europeans say they still support the agreement – which lifted sanctions in return for Iran curbing its nuclear programme – in practice they have found it difficult to get round the US measures.