Pompeo fails to sway allies on Iran in awkward surprise visit

May 19, 2019

TEHRAN - U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made scant progress persuading European Union counterparts to take a harder line toward Iran during a quick visit on May 13 to Brussels, with the EU standing behind the nuclear accord abandoned by Washington -- and warning of a potential military conflict.

Pompeo presented what the U.S. claims is fresh intelligence on the threat posed by Iran in meetings with counterparts from the three EU nations that joined the landmark 2015 accord, Bloomberg reported on Sunday. The top U.S. diplomat received a cool initial response to the surprise visit as foreign ministers from the 28-member bloc convened in the Belgian capital.

“I confirm my worry about the risks of an escalation in a region that definitely doesn’t need further elements of destabilization and tensions,” European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after the meetings. “Our call is to show maximum restraint from all sides.”

As alarm in European capitals grows at Trump’s hard-line approach in the region, there was no appreciable movement in the talks with Pompeo. The U.S. stance has left European allies irritated at the lack of strategy and powerless to sway an American administration that’s failed to provide answers on where it all leads, according to diplomats in Berlin, Paris and London.

Foremost among European concerns is the risk of a return to a nuclear threat in the Middle East, diplomats said on condition of anonymity as talks proceed behind closed doors. The Europeans are in a bind, with limited options to protect the deal.

Pompeo gave his European counterparts little time to prepare as ad-hoc meetings were scheduled individually. The other 25 member states were left out as Pompeo met with Mogherini, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Looming over the shuttle diplomacy lies a sense that more than 15 years of heavy lifting that culminated in the nuclear deal is slipping away, according to senior European diplomats. And even if few expect an open conflict in the near term, the fear is that Trump’s unpredictable approach could have unintended consequences.

SP/PA

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