Britain denies US request to use UK bases in nuclear standoff with Iran
Britain has rejected US requests to station troops at strategic military bases, citing secret legal advice which states that complicity in any pre-emptive strike on Iran could breach international law.
The Guardian has learnt that US diplomats have been lobbying for the use of British bases in Cyprus, and for permission to send air crews to American bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, both of which are territories under British control.
These approaches mark the cautious beginnings of a Western military standoff with Iran, though so far British officials have refused to become drawn into debate. Ministers referred US officials to initial drafts of legal advice prepared by the attorney general's office.
These documents, circulated throughout Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, provide a clear official position. Tehran does not currently represent "a clear and present threat" and enabling any forces to use force in the region would break international codes of conduct.
Speaking to The Guardian, a senior Whitehall source said, "The UK would be in breach of international law if it facilitated what amounted to a pre-emptive strike on Iran," "It is explicit. The government has been using this to push back against the Americans."
The UK would only become involved if full-blown conflict had clearly already begun in the region, government officials said. This remains a possibility, with Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu warning the UN general assembly last month that Iran could be producing weapons-grade uranium by "next spring, at most by next summer". There appears to be a sense that a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities could delay or prevent the country from developing a nuclear weapon.
Government figures appear reticent to be drawn into conflict, though the Royal Navy has a significant number of vessels located in the Gulf as a precautionary measure, should current diplomatic channels break down.
"It is quite likely that if the Israelis decided to attack Iran, or the Americans felt they had to do it for the Israelis or in support of them, the [British] would not be told beforehand," one official said to the newspaper. "In some respects, the U.K. government would prefer it that way."
Iran denies its nuclear efforts are anything other than peaceful activities.