Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen defends Iran nuclear deal


Former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen defended the international agreement aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions although it was "not perfect."

"I think the alternative is worse because the alternative is that you do not have any control. That you do not have any insight into their nuclear programme and their nuclear ambitions," he told journalists.

Rasmussen was speaking on the sidelines of a two-day conference on democracy and security that opened on Thursday in Copenhagen. If Iran was to succeed in developing a nuclear weapon it would "initiate a very dangerous arms race in the region," he said.

Last year, the United States pulled out of the 2015 agreement and has imposed sanctions on Tehran, while the deal is still supported by EU countries, China and Russia.

Rasmussen analysed that the U.S. decision to withdraw from the deal was an attempt to "force Iran to the negotiating table again. Of course that's a risky strategy. But of course it may succeed."

The approach was similar to how U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to handle North Korea, according to Rasmussen, who said he believed "that the U.S. should put much more focus on alignment with other allies like the European allies." If the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically important waterway for global oil shipments, were to be blocked, it would be "disastrous for the world economy," Rasmussen said.

U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday urged Iran to return to the negotiating table during a visit to Brussels.

Iran's spiritual and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently labelled the U.S. demands for negotiations as "a trick".

In a bid to salvage the Iran deal, diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are due to meet on Friday in Vienna with Iranian representatives at a meeting chaired by senior EU diplomat Helga Schmid.

In general, Rasmussen considered Trump's stance on autocratic leaders to be "too positive" mentioning North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Rasmussen served as NATO chief from 2009 to 2014 and was prime minister of Denmark between 2001 and 2009. After leaving NATO, the 66-year-old set up a consultancy firm and has written on strategic challenges.

Another international agreement under pressure was the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed 1987 by the U.S. and Russia. It has been a key part of Europe's security architecture for the past three decades, but the U.S. accuses Russia of breaching the agreement and Washington has said it will withdraw from the treaty if a August 2 deadline is not met.

Rasmussen said he hoped Russia would return to "the negotiating table and participate constructively in modernising the INF treaty." There was need for an "updated framework because technology has developed very comprehensively" and new actors including Iran and China have acquired missiles, he added.

The former NATO chief said he agreed with Trump's view that members of the military alliance need to raise military spending to 2 percent of GDP, noting they agreed to do this at a summit in 2014. The needs were also due to new security challenges, he said.

"We have new malign actors on the world scene like terrorists that can strike everywhere. like rogue actors in cyberspace." 

The former Danish prime minister also reflected on efforts to shore up democracy in former conflict states, saying the west had perhaps focussed too much on elections, "but we forgot to really strengthen the democratic mentality."

"The Arab Spring is another tragic example. I think we should have been much more forward-leaning in our support for the democracy activists," he said.    (dpa)

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