Pence speech on Iran highlights U.S. divide with Europe

"The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the Warsaw summit on security in the Middle East.

February 14, 2019 21:16
3 minute read.
US Vice President Mike Pence gives a speech during the conference on peace and security

US Vice President Mike Pence gives a speech during the conference on peace and security in the Middle East in Warsaw, on February 14, 2019. (photo credit: JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)


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FRANKFURT -- US Vice President Mike Pence chastised European powers on Thursday for resisting the Trump administration's campaign of maximum pressure on Iran, addressing a conference in Warsaw largely boycotted by EU nations.

Israel and Gulf Arab states made a rare public show of unity at the conference. But Great Britain and Italy were the only two EU nations in attendance. Others– including France, Germany, and the EU's high representative for foreign affairs– declined to send high level officials to the ministerial, protesting the tone of a conference they claimed was designed to undermine a nuclear deal with Tehran they continue to abide.

"Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative," Pence said on Thursday. "In fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions."

Indeed, EU powers have been working on a mechanism that would help their businesses circumvent secondary US sanctions. The Iran nuclear agreement, brokered in 2015, called on parties to the deal to encourage local businesses to invest in the Iranian economy.

But US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal last year, reimposing all US sanctions on Iran that had been in place before the agreement– and then some. EU nations have recoiled at the policy.

"The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us," Pence told the Warsaw summit on security in the Middle East, which, despite controversy, gathered 60 countries in the Polish capital. "It is an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the United States."

The EU mechanism was conceived as a way to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods. However, those ambitions have been scaled back, with diplomats saying that, realistically, it will be used only for trade, for example of humanitarian products or food, allowed by Washington.

European diplomats at the conference rejected Pence's accusations: "We strongly disagree," a diplomat from a major European power said. "We want to push Iran to good results and don’t want to push Iran outside of its nuclear commitment."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with the EU foreign affairs chief, Frederica Mogherini, in Brussels on Friday, ostensibly to discuss the results of the Warsaw summit.

Mogherini was dismissive of the Warsaw event. She has fervently defended the Iran nuclear deal and this week, amid public Israeli diplomacy with Arab powers, reiterated her belief that a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian question must underlie any broader Israeli-Arab peace.

At a press conference with Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, Pompeo attempted a more diplomatic line by highlighting areas of successful cooperation with Europe.

Czaputowicz– co-hosting a conference with the Americans widely seen as targeting Iran– reminded the press alongside Pompeo that Poland, too, supported the Iran nuclear deal alongside its neighbors in Europe and Russia.

"There have been lots of places the Europeans and the Americans have worked together against Iran recently, right?" Pompeo said. "The Germans have denied Mahan Air the right to fly there. Many of these countries have called out assassination attempts in their own country in a way that they weren’t doing before the Trump administration."

"There's still more work to do, but yes," Pompeo added, answering a new, shouted question on European help blocking Iran's missile development, "I hope we can continue to work on that."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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