Britain says talks under way with U.S. on base use

Obama and Cameron held a joint news conference in Washington.

BEIRUT: Military contingency planning between the U.K. and U.S. on potential flashpoints in the Middle East is under way, Britain said Friday, adding however that it does not support any imminent strike on nuclear sites in Iran, the Associated Press reported.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office said Friday that planning was being carried out with the U.S. and other allies, including on the potential use by U.S. forces of British bases overseas, the AP reported.

This follows a report Thursday in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper that Britain is saying no to a U.S. request to use U.K. military bases for a build-up of forces for a standoff with Iran.

U.S. diplomats have been lobbying for the use of British bases in Cyprus as well as on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, both of which are British territories, the daily said.

This bid by the U.S., the paper says, is part of its ongoing standoff with Iran, which it views as a threat to its primary ally in the Middle East, Israel.

But the U.K. has countered U.S. efforts by citing international law, saying that providing assistance for a pre-emptive strike would be illegal, as Iran is not currently considered "a clear and present threat."

"The U.K. would be in breach of international law if it facilitated what amounted to a pre-emptive strike on Iran," the Guardian quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying.

"It is explicit. The government has been using this to push back against the Americans," the source added.

Sources told the Guardian that the U.S. had yet to make a formal request and that they did not see a conflict as imminent. So far, discussions had been to “scope out the British position.”

The newspaper was also told that a British military delegation had flown to Tampa, Florida, in the summer to go over a range of contingency plans with U.S. officials. The U.K. said it would only become involved in a conflict had begun, but did not want to be part of a military build-up, the paper reported.

"But I think the U.S. has been surprised that ministers have been reluctant to provide assurances about this kind of upfront assistance," one source told the Guardian.

"They'd expect resistance from senior Liberal Democrats, but it's Tories [Conservative Party] as well. That has come as a bit of a surprise," the source said.

The British military, which appears reluctant to be drawn into any new conflict, already has a relatively large presence in the Gulf. The Royal Navy has around 10 ships in the region, including a nuclear-powered submarine, and with counter-marine vessels to make sure the Strait of Hormuz stays open.

"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 U.K. would not be told beforehand," said the source.

"In some respects, the U.K. government would prefer it that way."

Both U.S. and British diplomats told the Guardian that their countries considered diplomacy the best solution. But this depends on the White House being able to calm Israel, which has repeatedly expressed fear that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon.

"Contingency planning is something which we do as a matter of routine. Obviously we are working closely, for example with the United States, as we have done in the past, regarding the use of U.K. bases," the Associated Press reported a spokeswoman for Cameron as saying.

"We routinely speak to our counterparts in the United States. We don't get into details of those discussions, but we have in the past cooperated on the use of U.K. bases," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity, in line with her office's policy. The U.S. military used British bases in the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Britain's Foreign Office said that the U.K. was involved in "prudent" contingency planning with its allies, including the U.S.

"The government does not believe that military action against Iran is the right option at this time, but we are not taking any option off the table," Cameron's spokeswoman said.

- With AP.





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