The Europeans expressed concern on Monday over renewed tensions between Washington and Tehran and signaled US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo their concern over the risk of an “accidental” conflict in the Gulf.
On his way to Russia, the head of the US diplomacy has been invited to a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels to discuss “urgent issues”, including Iran. Washington has accused Tehran of preparing “imminent” attacks on US interests in the Middle East.
These interviews were difficult. “I told him clearly that we are concerned about the tensions in the region and that we do not want a military escalation,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters after their meeting.
The tone was given by British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt at the start of the Brussels meeting: “We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident due to escalating tensions”.
- – “Avoid climbing” –
“The US position to increase pressure and sanctions does not suit us,” added his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The meeting with Mike Pompeo was organized in a rush, admitted Federica Mogherini. “We have very serious differences and differences, and we believe that dialogue is the best way to address them and avoid escalation,” said the head of European diplomacy.
The three ministers and Federica Mogherini had previously agreed on their position: “European unity for the preservation of the JCPOA (the nuclear agreement) and the refusal of escalation”, they announced, before speaking each with Mr. Pompeo.
“We think Iran has to go the way of talks instead of threats, they have made a bad choice by focusing on the threats,” said Iran’s US envoy Brian Hook. was in Brussels with Mike Pompeo. He said the US Secretary of State wanted to share some information with the EU in “more than what we have said publicly”.
France, Germany and Britain are the three European signatories, along with Russia, China and the United States, of the agreement reached in 2015 with Iran on its nuclear program.
The Europeans want to keep this agreement, which has been threatened since the withdrawal of the United States, and the decision of Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Iran, of which Europeans are also victims, because their companies and their banks can no longer work in Iran under pain of being sanctioned.
“In Europe, we consider that this agreement is necessary for our security, nobody wants to see Iran possess the nuclear weapon,” said Heiko Maas.
But the Europeans did not appreciate the threats of President Hassan Rohani. “The statements made by Iran on their commitments are very worrying and the ultimatum is not suitable,” warned Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Tehran announced last week the suspension of some of its commitments under the agreement and warned Europeans to exit the oil and banking sectors of Iran from their isolation caused by US sanctions in the next two months what the Islamic Republic will renounce to other restrictions imposed on its nuclear program.
- – Need calm –
“We will see together how to act to maintain the agreement and ensure that Iran remains in the agreement,” said the French minister. “It is important that the EU remains united”.
“So far the Iranians have respected their commitments,” said Federica Mogherini. “We will make the Instex (the instrument created to enable trade) operational and carry out the first transactions in the coming weeks,” she said in response to Russia’s criticism of Europeans to respect their commitments.
But US military movements in the region are worried. Washington has decided to send a warship and a battery of Patriot missiles into the Gulf, where an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers are already present.
Several ships have been the target of mysterious “acts of sabotage” off the Emirates, according to Ryad and Abu Dhabi, causing rising tensions in the Gulf.
“I think what we need is a period of calm, to make sure everyone understands what the other side thinks,” said Jeremy Hunt.
“We must be careful not to put Iran back on the path of nuclearisation, because if Iran becomes a nuclear power, its neighbors will probably want to become nuclear powers,” said the British minister.
“This is the most unstable region in the world and it would be a huge step in the wrong direction,” he warned.
After Brussels, Pompeo must travel to Sochi, Russia, for talks that are just as difficult with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin.
“We will try to see with Mike Pompeo how the Americans intend to get out of a crisis created by their unilateral decisions,” said the Russian minister.