EU calls on US to show restraint over Iran

Foreign ministers warn Mike Pompeo against escalating dispute

The US needs to exercise "maximum restraint" to avoid escalating its dispute with Iran over the nuclear deal, EU foreign ministers in Brussels  told US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Monday.

They made clear that despite the US repudiation of the deal agreed between Iran and world powers in 2015, the EU stood by it and would do all it could to implement it in full, EU high representative for foreign policy Federica Mogherini told journalists.

The EU believed that Iran was in full compliance with all its commitments under the agreement, she added.

The deal saw Iran agree to curb its nuclear activities in return to an easing of international sanctions.


Iranian compliance

In a clear reproach to the US, Ms Mogherini said ministers had made it clear that they saw the International Atomic Energy Agency as the only body that could legitimately verify Iranian compliance with the deal. The agency had repeatedly done so.

The  EU finds itself caught between an attempt by US president Donald Trump to scuttle the deal by upping pressure on countries to boycott trade with Iran, and a Tehran ultimatum last week to the EU that it must do more to protect those who do trade with it or it will restart uranium stockpiling.

Iran is sceptical of the willingness of EU member states to use the EU’s special purpose vehicle, Instex, which is supposed to route cash payments around the dollar system to facilitate companies wanting to buy Iranian goods. Companies’ reluctance to do so, however, EU officials say, has more to do with concerns that they may face US retaliation.

On the fringes of the EU foreign ministers' meeting ministers from France, the UK, and Germany – the three-nation Iran contact group – and Ms Mogherini held a bilateral with Mr Pompeo, who had stopped off unexpectedly in Brussels.

Ahead of their meeting UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Iran situation was in danger of escalating unintentionally and ending "with some kind of conflict".

“What we need is a period of calm,” he said, “so that everyone understands what the other side is thinking and most of all to make sure we don’t put Iran back on the path to nuclearisation, because if Iran becomes a nuclear power, neighbours are likely to want to become nuclear powers, this is already the most unstable region in the world.”

‘Atomic bomb’

"This agreement is necessary for our security; nobody wants Iran to possess an atomic bomb," German foreign minister Heiko Maas told reporters

Ms Mogherini also reported to the ministers on the work of the international Venezuela contact group formed by the EU which will be visiting Caracas in the coming days to explore the possibilities for a political track leading to a democratic transition and presidential elections. She said Mr Pompeo expressed interest in the group’s work.

The meeting made a strong call for an "immediate" ceasefire" in Libya, urging "all parties to re-commit to the United Nations-facilitated political dialogue and work towards a comprehensive political solution to the crisis in Libya".

UN special representative for Libya Ghassan Salamé briefed ministers, and Ms Mogherini met Libya’s prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the UN-backed government of national accord, ahead of the meeting.

The foreign ministers also met their counterparts from the six countries involved in the EU's "eastern partnership", marking its 10th anniversary. The six are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

And foreign ministers reaffirmed their support for Cyprus in what, until now, is largely a war of words over threats by Turkey to drill for oil in the island's exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey insists it is merely asserting the right of the breakaway state of northern Cyprus to share in the benefits of the zone.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the notionally “independent”  byproduct of the invasion by Turkey of the island in 1974, is recognised internationally only by Turkey.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times