Iran working `flat out` on nuke arms: UK minister

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain won`t favour a preemptive strike against Iran`s nuclear facilities.

Last Updated: Jan 05, 2012, 23:16 PM IST

Washington: Britain`s defence minister said
Thursday Iran is assumed to be working "flat out" on a nuclear
weapons capability and will only be deterred if the cost to
its economy becomes too high.

But Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would
not favour a preemptive strike against Iran`s nuclear
facilities, and instead will rely on sanctions targeting its
oil exports, central bank and general economy.

"My working assumption is that they are flat out,"
Hammond said in a question-and-answer session at a US think
tank here, referring to the Iranian nuclear efforts. "I think
they are going as fast as they can."

"And I think our working assumption also has to be that
Iran is set on a course that it will only be deterred from if
the price for achieving the goal that they set out becomes too
high.

"That is what we are in the process of doing by stepping
up the pressure on oil revenues, on the operation of the
central bank, on the economy generally," he said.

Hammond, who was to meet later in the day with US Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta, spoke a day after the European Union
reached a preliminary agreement on an oil embargo against
Iran. The timing of such a move was still under debate.

Iran`s has threatened to close the strategic Strait of
Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world`s oil flows, if
it is hit with sanctions, and has warned the United States not
to send an aircraft carrier back into the Gulf.

The tensions have sent the price of oil soaring.

Hammond said both Britain and the United States would
make sure that their response to any provocation was "very
measured, that there isn`t an accidental escalation. What we
cannot answer for is whether there is a plan on the other side
to escalate."

In response to a question, he said: "We would not favor a
pre-emptive strike. We have been very clear that we need to
maintain the pressure but we also need to engage. And any
question of a pre-emptive strike is abandoning the engagement."

PTI