Boris Johnson has called on President Donald Trump to come up with an alternative to the Iran nuclear accord as Britain, France and Germany formally accused the Islamic Republic of non-compliance with the existing agreement.
In a drastic step that could ultimately lead to the deal’s collapse, European signatories on Tuesday said they had "no choice" but to trigger a dispute resolution mechanism after Iran said it would ignore limitations on uranium enrichment and centrifuge research.
Under the deal brokered in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed with China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US, to restrict its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
Mr Trump pulled the US out and reimposed sanctions in 2018. Iran began a staged suspension of its own commitments in response in May last year, and last week announced it would no longer accept limits on its uranium enrichment.
Britain, France and Germany have so far resisted US demands that they too quit the deal, insisting it is the only way to stop Iran getting a bomb.
But in a remarkable change of tack, Mr Johnson on Tuesday suggested the deal could be replaced with a new one negotiated by Mr Trump.
“The problem with the JCPOA - this is the crucial thing, it's why there is this tension - the problem with the agreement is that from the American perspective it's a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by President Obama,” he told the BBC.
He said one of the problems Mr Trump had with the agreement was that it was negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, so putting in a replacement "Trump deal" would be a way out of the current crisis.
Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary, later expanding on Mr Johnson’s point, said the current deal "is the best way to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions" but that did not preclude looking at a broader initiative to address the UK’s concerns.
Mr Trump backed the call on Twitter, saying: "I agree!"
Iran has previously ruled out renegotiating the 2015 deal and is unclear whether it would entertain talks on a fresh agreement with Mr Trump, who may not be in office after November's presidential elections.
In a joint statement, Britain, France and Germany, known as the E3, said the dispute mechanism had been triggered in an effort to buy time for the US and Iran to ease tensions.
"We do this in good faith with the overarching objective of preserving the JCPOA and in the sincere hope of finding a way forward to resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue," they said.
The United States said it supported the move.
"We fully support the decision by the E3 to initiate the dispute resolution mechanism," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. "We believe further diplomatic and economic pressure is warranted by nations."
Iran's foreign ministry accused the E3 of seeking to "abuse" the process and threatened unspecified "consequences."
The move came a week after Iran announced it was suspended all limits on centrifuge installation and uranium enrichment under the JCPOA under its "fifth and final" step back from the agreement.
It said it would return to full compliance with the deal if the United States lifted all sanctions and is continuing to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor its programs under the agreement.
However, the Telegraph understands the E3 decided to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism last month, in response to Iran's third and fourth steps in its gradual suspension of its nuclear deal commitments.
The measures included resuming research and development of centrifuges, which European governments fear will lead to irreversible technological breakthroughs and reduce the "break-out" time Iran would need to build a bomb.
The dispute will now be put to a Joint Commission comprising Iran, Russia, China, the three European powers, and the EU, and then on to the United Nations Security Council if that commission cannot resolve it.
If the Security Council does not vote within 30 days to continue sanctions relief, sanctions in place under previous UN resolutions would "snapback" into place, effectively ending the deal for good.
However, E3 diplomats are understood to believe the dispute resolution period can be extended indefinitely and said they were keen to avoid it escalating to the Security Council.