Europe warns US against Iran escalation as tensions mount

Europe yesterday urged the United States not to further escalate tensions over the Iran nuclear deal, with Britain issuing a stark warning of the risk of conflict erupting “by accident” in the Gulf.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a last-minute visit to Brussels where he met his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany, the three European signatories to the 2015 accord that curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief on the sidelines of a regular EU foreign ministers’ gathering.

Iran last week announced it was suspending some of its commitments under the agreement, a year after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and imposed swingeing sanctions on the Islamic republic, putting the deal in peril.

Adding a military dimension to the diplomatic tensions, Washington is sending an amphibious assault ship and a Patriot missile battery to the Gulf, having already deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers.

Pompeo’s visit to Brussels was announced at the last minute and if he came hoping for a show of transatlantic unity against Iran, he was disappointed, with Britain, France and Germany all publicly criticising the hardline US approach. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin “still regards this nuclear agreement as the basis for Iran not having any nuclear weapons in the future and we regard this as existential for our security”.

Maas said he used his one-on-one meeting with Pompeo to stress that “we are concerned about the development and the tensions in the region, that we do not want there to be a military escalation”. As he arrived for the talks, British foreign minister Hunt called for “a period of calm” and bluntly warned of the danger of pushing Iran back towards developing nuclear weapons.

“We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended on either side but ends with some kind of conflict,” Hunt said.

“Most of all we must make sure we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearisation, because if Iran becomes a nuclear power its neighbours are likely to want to become nuclear powers.”

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