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25th May 2019

EU and US disagree on Iran and Israel

  • Tillerson flip-flopped on Iran deal (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The US and EU's top diplomats diverged on Middle East policy, while celebrating their "partnership" on Tuesday (5 December).

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini urged Washington to uphold the Iran nuclear non-proliferation deal after meeting US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Brussels.

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  • US envoy brushed off Trump's 'little criticism' upon arrival (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

She also urged it not to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital - a campaign promise of US president Donald Trump.

"The Iran nuclear deal is a key strategic priority for European security, but also for regional and global security," Mogherini said.

"Dismantling an agreement on nuclear issues that is working - as the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified nine times - would not put us in a better position to discuss all the rest on the country," she added.

Mogherini said "a way must be found, through negotiations, to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states", referring to Israel and Palestine's conflict over the city.

"We believe that any action that would undermine this effort must absolutely be avoided," she said.

She spoke at a short press conference in which reporters were not allowed to ask questions.

Her remarks came after Trump, two months ago, asked Congress to unilaterally scrap the Iran accord. The deal, which involves lifting sanctions in return for a freeze on uranium enrichment, was negotiated by Mogherini in its final stages.

The EU chief diplomat's comments also came amid White House signals that Trump will say, this week, that the US would move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a de facto recognition of Israel's claim to the city.

Tillerson on Iran

Tillerson at first appeared to contradict Trump on scrapping the Iran deal.

"We discussed … our joint efforts under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [the Iran accord] to hold Iran fully compliant with the terms of that deal and fully enforce that agreement", he said after meeting Mogherini.

He then echoed Trump, saying Iran should pay a price for its "destabilising" activities in the Middle East.

He cited Iran's ballistic missile programme, its support for Yemen rebels, for the Syrian regime, and for Hezbollah, an armed militia in Lebanon, among the issues.

"These … activities of Iran cannot be ignored and cannot go unanswered and we intend to continue to take action to ensure Iran understands this," he said.

He said nothing on Jerusalem.

But he listed other areas in which the EU and US were in agreement: on countering Russia's aggression in Ukraine, sanctions on North Korea's nuclear menace, fighting Islamist terrorism, and spending more on Nato defence.

"The partnership between America and the European Union ... is based upon shared values, shared objectives for security and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic and we remain committed to that," Tillerson said.

Tillerson's meeting with Mogherini was the first in a series of events in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The US envoy also met EU and Nato foreign ministers. He will fly to Vienna on Wednesday for a two-day meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a security body, before holding talks with his French counterpart in Paris on Friday.

He said while arriving for the Nato meeting in Brussels that the US had a "firm commitment to article five" - the Nato treaty clause on mutual defence.

Anti-Trump feeling

Tillerson's assurances come amid ever-deeper antipathy toward Trump's America in Europe.

Fifty six percent of people recently polled by the Koerber Foundation in Germany said relations with the US were bad or very bad.

Nineteen percent said poor US relations were their top concern. The issue came second after immigration (26%), but ahead of bad German-Turkish relations (17%), North Korea (10%), and Russia (8%).

Tillerson's assurances also come amid speculation that Trump plans to fire him from his job.

The vacancy at the top would come amid several other empty posts in State Department areas - including that of the US ambassador to the EU.

Tillerson, speaking to press on his arrival at the US embassy in Brussels, played down what he called "a little criticism" from Trump.

Reacting to questions on the US diplomatic vacancies, he said "the State Department is not missing a beat".

"While we don't have any wins on the board yet, I can tell you we're in a much better position to advance America's interests around the world than we were 10 months ago," he said.

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