PM hopeful Jeremy Hunt seeks to ease tensions with Iran

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Jeremy Hunt may be engaged in an ongoing contest with Boris Johnson to become the next Conservative leader and UK prime minister, but he also faces some big challenges in his role as foreign secretary, such as managing deteriorating relations with Iran.

Mr Hunt is due to meet other EU foreign ministers in Brussels to discuss the current situation in the Gulf, with some countries expressing their concern about Iran breaching the commitments made in a nuclear non-proliferation agreement four years ago. This comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the UK in particular.

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At a meeting with his European counterparts on Monday, Mr Hunt is expected to discuss potential courses of action to encourage Iran to stick to the pledges made in the 2015 nuclear deal.

There have been concerns about the ongoing strength of the agreement over the past year, particularly in the wake of the United States' decision to withdraw from it in May 2018.

In a show of solidarity, Britain, Germany and France released a joint statement on July 14th expressing their concern that the action plan could unravel “under the strain of sanctions imposed by the United States and following Iran's decision to no longer implement several of the central provisions of the agreement”.

“We are extremely concerned by Iran's decision to stockpile and enrich uranium in excess of authorised limits,” the statement added. “Moreover, our three countries are deeply troubled by the attacks we have witnessed in the Persian Gulf and beyond, and by the deterioration of the security in the region.

“We believe the time has come to act responsibly and seek a path to stop the escalation of tensions and resume dialogue.”

The release of the statement came at a time of heightened tensions between the UK and Iran, following the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker by Royal Marines. The tanker was seized because the British government felt there was reason to believe it was transporting crude oil to a refinery in Syria, which is subject to European Union sanctions.

Mr Hunt told the BBC the ship would be released if the UK received satisfactory guarantees it was not carrying oil bound for Syria.

Domestic priorities

As well as managing international relations in his role as foreign secretary, Mr Hunt is also due to take part in a debate with Mr Johnson in London as the pair continue to make their cases for why they should be the next prime minister.

Mr Johnson, the current favourite to win the Conservative leadership contest, has set his sights on negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with the US if he becomes prime minister, the Times reported.

An ally of the former London mayor described the US as “the key to the whole thing”, adding that a trade deal with America would put Britain “in the market for other deals”.

However, Liam Fox, the current international trade secretary and a supporter of Mr Hunt, has argued that taking steps to secure an early trade agreement with the US would be illegal, the Telegraph reported.

“We can't negotiate anything with the US until after we've left. It would be in breach of European law to do that,” he said.

One of the key questions in the Brexit debate at the moment is whether the incoming prime minister can broker a new withdrawal deal with Brussels within the next three months, or if Britain will face a no-deal exit from the EU on October 31st.

Mr Johnson has shown a greater willingness to leave without a deal than Mr Hunt, despite repeated warnings from business bodies and industry groups that it would be extremely damaging to the British economy, companies and jobs.

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