US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has raised hopes in Europe that the Iran nuclear deal can be saved, saying the US and EU powers were exploring how to "fix" Donald Trump's concerns.
On a bridge-building visit to London on Monday, Tillerson said there was a "common view" among the E3 – the UK, France, and Germany – and the US that concerns around Iran's ballistic missile programme needed to be addressed.
He said a working group had been set up to look at "how we might fix those through some type of another side agreement perhaps, or a mechanism to address the concerns that we have".
It was a notable softening of language on the issue compared with that used by the US president, who has called the deal "an embarrassment to the United States".
Speaking alongside him, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson said there was a "wide measure of agreement" in Europe on the need to work together with the US to address Iran's ballistic missile activity.
"We think we can do that. We think we can do that together," he said.
Later, Tillerson went further and told reporters that a team of US officials was travelling to Europe to "meet with counterparts, so we'll see what we can get done". The initiative, he added, was being led by the State Department.
However, there was little sign of that more emollient tone in a speech by US vice president Mike Pence to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on Monday. "The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster and the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement," he said.
"Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed, President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately."
Trump has until mid-May to decide whether to certify to Congress that Iran is complying with the deal, a decision that must be made every 120 days under the agreement.
Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal was forged in 2015 between Iran and the US, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany in a landmark bid to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
At the time, it was hailed as a major achievement for then US president Barack Obama and a diplomatic breakthrough in relations between the West and Tehran. But Trump's administration has warned that Iran is not meeting the "expectations" of the agreement.
Meanwhile Tillerson said he "treasures" his relationship with Boris Johnson and insisted the US and UK would always have a "special relationship", as he visited the foreign secretary's official residence in London after a meeting with prime minister Theresa May.
It came days after Trump claimed that he had cancelled a trip to London in protest at the new US embassy building in south London, which he said was in an "off location" and built after the old embassy was sold for "peanuts" in a "bad deal".
Tillerson made the trip to the new embassy in Nine Elms, where he was met by US ambassador Woody Johnson although a formal meet-and-greet of staff was cancelled due to the US government shutdown. Tillerson was nevertheless introduced to a number of diplomats as he was given a tour of the building.
Just before the secretary of state arrived, the US ambassador told reporters: "The embassy actually is going to really work." Asked about an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, he said: "At some point we're going to do it, but there's no urgency to do that. We'll do it when the time is right."
Both Tillerson and Woody Johnson were keen to stress to journalists that the ties between the US and the UK were as strong as ever, despite the president's recent tweets.
In November last year, May criticised Trump for retweeting three anti-Muslim videos posted by the deputy leader of the far-right British political party Britain First. He then hit back at the PM on Twitter.
Downing Street has insisted that May's invitation to the president to visit Britain still stands and he would be welcome. No date has been set, however, amid concerns from the White House about the level of protests against Trump.
May is expected to meet Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this week in what has been dubbed a "clearing the air" meeting.
Tillerson was officially in London to discuss solutions to tensions in Iran, Yemen, and Syria. Following his meeting with Boris Johnson, he told reporters that the "special relationship" between the US and UK would endure.
"We spend a lot of time talking about the world's problems," he said. "Sometimes we forget about the importance of our own relationship. We treasure this relationship. I treasure Boris's relationship with me personally."
Johnson added: "It is always worth saying that the relationship between the US and the UK is absolutely fundamental to our diplomacy but also to our economy."
Number 10 said Tillerson had also underlined the "special relationship" at a meeting with the PM and Britain's national security adviser Mark Sedwill at Downing Street earlier in the day.
"They discussed the continuing depth and breadth of the special relationship," a spokesperson said.
"They agreed on the importance of the international community coming together to counter Iran’s destabilising regional activity, and the prime minister reiterated the UK's commitment to the Iran nuclear deal."
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at email@example.com.
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