Pence, Merkel trade jabs over which is emboldening Iran

"We cannot strengthen the West by becoming dependent on the East," Pence said.

US Vice President Mike Pence seen during a visit to the Knesset, Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS/ARIEL SCHALIT/POOL)
US Vice President Mike Pence seen during a visit to the Knesset, Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem
FRANKFURT – German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back on Saturday against US claims that Europe is protecting Iran as it destabilizes the Middle East.
Addressing comments made by US Vice President Mike Pence, who this week called on EU powers to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran, Merkel questioned the wisdom of Washington’s approach and claimed that the Trump administration – not Europe – might be to blame for emboldening the Islamic state.
“Do we help our common cause by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement?” Merkel said at the start of a security conference in Munich, and on the heels of a US-led summit on security in the Middle East held in Warsaw.
Asked for her position on President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, Merkel continued: “Will it once more strengthen the capacity of Iran and Russia to exert their influence?”
Pence, flying from the Polish capital to Munich, publicly pushed the Europeans – and in particular France, Britain and Germany, which are party to the nuclear deal – to change course after a year of resistance.
“The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people,” Pence said. “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
“We have the regime in Tehran that’s breathing out murderous threats, with the same vile antisemitic hatred that animated the Nazis in Europe,” Pence told reporters on Air Force Two before landing in Munich.
In Warsaw, Pence accused the “E3” of working against the Trump administration’s campaign of maximum pressure on Iran that has, as one of its aims, the full collapse of the Obama-era nuclear accord.
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.
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.
European diplomats at the Warsaw 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 met with EU foreign affairs chief Federica 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.
Reuters contributed to this report.