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23rd Aug 2019

EU urges US not to start war with Iran

  • The EU foreign relations chief on Monday with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the UK - the three EU states that helped broker the JCPoA (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Europe's leading diplomats have said US actions risked triggering a conflict with Iran, as America makes plans to pour troops back into the Middle East.

The UK, America's main ally in Europe, and Germany, the EU's most powerful country, issued the warnings in Brussels on Monday (13 May) after a hastily arranged meeting with the US secretary of state.

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  • Mike Pompeo's EU visit was arranged at the last minute en route to Russia (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

"We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side," British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said.

"We need to make sure that we don't end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearisation," he added, referring to the potential collapse of an Iran non-proliferation deal called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA).

The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said: "We are worried in view of the developments and the tensions in the region ... We don't want a military escalation".

"It is responsible to stick to what you have and help prevent further escalation," he also said on the JCPoA.

US tensions with Iran rose last year when American president Donald Trump walked out of the EU-brokered nuclear deal and reimposed economic sanctions.

He recently moved an aircraft carrier, long-range bomber planes, and anti-missile defence systems to the region.

His acting defence chief, Patrick Shanahan, last week, also put forward provisional plans to send 120,000 US soldiers to the Middle East on the request of Trump's hawkish national security advisor, John Bolton.

For its part, Iran has said it would restart uranium enrichment unless the EU resumed oil purchases despite the US sanctions.

Suspicion has also swirled that it was behind the recent sabotage of three tankers, off the coast of US ally the United Arab Emirates, to show its potential to wreak havoc on global oil markets if need be.

The situation echoes events in 2003 when the US and the UK invaded Iraq despite EU appeals, causing a transatlantic rift, massive loss of life, and aggravating regional instability.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also said on Monday that the US decision to scrap the JCPoA "does not suit us."

The EU foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, speaking for the other 24 EU countries, said: "We are living in a crucial and delicate moment, where the most relevant and responsible attitude to take is ... that of maximal restrain and avoiding any escalation on the military side".

The EU would be ready to resume trade in food and medicines, if not oil, with Iran "in the next few weeks", she noted.

The UN's nuclear watchdog in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has said Iran was in full compliance with the JCPoA, "remains the only entitled body to verify that Iran is or is not compliant with its nuclear commitments", she added, in a rebuff to Trump.

Pompeo visit

The EU spoke out after US secretary of state Mike Pompeo spoke with Mogherini in the margins of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in the EU capital.

Mogherini mentioned that "we were told during the night that he [Pompeo] was planning to change his travel plans and to have a stopover here", prior to going to Russia.

Pompeo himself posed for a photo with her, but did not speak to press.

Brian Hook, his Iran envoy, said "the secretary shared information and intelligence with allies and discussed the multiple plot vectors emerging from Iran".

He hinted that Iran was behind the oil tanker attacks but declined to confirm it.

He also defended Trump and Bolton's approach, saying: "They [Iran] change their behaviour when one or more of these elements are present: economic pressure, diplomatic isolation, and the threat of military force".

'Little stories'

Speaking earlier on Monday to US broadcaster CNBC, Pompeo said: "In the event that Iran decided to come after an American interest ... in the Middle East, we are prepared to respond".

Speaking to reporters in the White House the same day, Trump said: "I'm hearing little stories about Iran. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly."

But if a conflict were to break out, Europe might be more inclined to blame the US, French president Emmanuel Macron said at an EU summit last week.

"First of all, Iran hasn't left the deal [the JCPoA]. Second of all, if they do, it'll be the responsibility of the US," he said in Sibiu, Romania.

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