An attack on Iran would carry huge costs, Britain's foreign minister warned Saturday.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a newspaper interview that while Iran's suspected drive for atomic weapons could lead to a dangerous nuclear standoff in the Middle East, he favored more time to let diplomacy and economic pressure run its course.
Hague told the right-leaning The Daily Telegraph that striking at Iran's disputed nuclear program would have "enormous downsides."
"We are very clear to all concerned that we are not advocating military action," he said.
Tensions over Iran's nuclear program are running high. Israel, the U.S., Britain and others suspect that the Islamic Republic is using the program as cover for the manufacture of atomic weapons and observers fear that a pre-emptive strike may be in the works. Recent attacks on Israeli diplomats in Thailand, Georgia and India have increased the pressure, with Israel accusing Iran of being behind the assaults.
Hague said that allowing Iran to proceed with its nuclear program unchecked would lead to a Cold War-style arms race in the Middle East, with neighboring countries rushing to match what Hague said would be an Iranian arsenal.
"And so, the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun with all the destabilizing effects in the Middle East," he said. "That would be a disaster for world affairs."
Still, Hague endorsed European efforts to head off any nuclear weapons program through economic and diplomatic pressure.
"We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand," he said. "We are not favoring the idea of anybody attacking Iran at the moment."
Hague didn't spell out what the downsides to an attack would be, but former British ambassador to Tehran Richard Dalton told BBC television that they would likely include a drawn-out conflict, retaliatory strikes against U.S. facilities, terrorist attacks and serious disruption to world energy supplies.
"We couldn't assume that a strike would be over quickly," Dalton said Saturday. There would be large scale and long-lasting repercussions."
Hague's interview: http://tgr.ph/zu9wbs
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://twitter.com/razhael