Angela Merkel rejects US demand to quit Iran deal

Chancellor’s address at security conference well received but Pence greeted by near-silence

Angela Merkel  and Mike Pence (L) leave after a photo call during the 55th Munich Security Conference this weekend. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Angela Merkel and Mike Pence (L) leave after a photo call during the 55th Munich Security Conference this weekend. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a strong rejoinder Saturday to US demands that European allies pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and gave a spirited defence of multilateral institutions in a world increasingly marked by great-power rivalry.

In an uncharacteristically passionate speech, Dr Merkel said the nuclear deal was the best way of influencing Iranian behaviour on a range of non-nuclear issues, from missile development to terrorism. Without mentioning president Donald Trump or the US by name at the annual major European security conference in Munich, Dr Merkel criticised other unilateral moves, such as Mr Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria, a suggestion that he would withdraw quickly from Afghanistan and his decision to suspend the Intermediate Range Missile Treaty with Russia, which directly affects European security.

“We sit there in the middle with the result,” she said. Dr Merkel spoke immediately before US vice president Mike Pence, and addressed a packed auditorium with an audience that included Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka, as well as the Russian foreign minister and a high-ranking Chinese official, who all pointedly remained seated when the chancellor received a standing ovation.

Her reception was in sharp contrast to the polite near-silence that greeted Mr Pence’s address. Aware of a growing anxiety among European allies that the US administration’s erratic leadership stance was a threat to their security, the vice president came to Munich laser-focused on the Trump administration’s message.

He repeated his demand from this past week in Warsaw that Germany, France and Britain should join Washington in pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. “The time has come for the Europeans to leave the Iranian nuclear deal,” Mr Pence said. In contrast to the chancellor, Mr Pence focused less on working together and more on a list of demands for US allies based on US interests, with a heavy emphasis on a combative approach to Iran.

“The Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust, and it seeks the means to achieve it,” Mr Pence said. The two speeches were a reminder of how far apart Europe and the United States are on a range of global issues. Dr Merkel said the split over Iran “depresses me very much,” but she stressed that Europe and the United States were ultimately pursuing the same goal since Europe, too, was concerned about Iranian behaviour. “I see the ballistic missile programme, I see Iran in Yemen, and above all I see Iran in Syria,” Dr Merkel said. She added: “The only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?”

Dr Merkel defended multilateralism and stressed that collective solutions were the only way to tackle global challenges, from a rising China to climate change to mutually beneficial trade. The chancellor also challenged the United States on its decision to pull put of Syria, asking, “Is that not also strengthening the possibilities for Iran and Russia to exert influence there?” One main issue of disagreement between Berlin and Washington, as well as Poland and the Baltic States, is the Nordstream 2 pipeline that would send Russian gas to Germany while bypassing Ukraine. Mr Pence accused Germany again of putting its own interests ahead of its neighbours’ and of giving Russia a possible tool to pressure the West. “We can’t ensure the defence of the West if our allies are dependent on the East,” he said. In her speech, Dr Merkel said that Europe was buying Russian gas anyway, even if it arrived through a Ukrainian pipeline. Even during the Cold War, she said, “we imported large amounts of Russian gas. I don’t know why times should be so much worse today.”

“Do we want to make Russia only dependent on China? Is that our European interest?” she asked. “I don’t think so.” Mr Pence, for his part, said that the United States was committed to Nato, and he praised Mr Trump for pushing allies to spend more on defence, for standing up to China and North Korea and for showing renewed US leadership in the world. – New York Times