The High Representative of Foreign Policy of the EU,
Amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf over increasingly harsh rhetoric from both the US and Iran over the latter’s continued aggressive activities in the Middle East, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and US Secretay of State Mike Pompeo met in Brussels to discuss the current situation on the ground.
Mogherini made clear that the European Commission and the EU’s foreign ministers want to avoid any possible military escalation at a time when Tehran has said it will target US personnel stationed in the region.
“Mike Pompeo heard very clearly today from us, not only from myself but also from other ministers of EU member states, that we are living in a crucial delicate moment where the most relevant attitude to take, the most responsible attitude to take, is and we believe should be, that of maximum restraint and avoid any escalation on the military side,” said Mogherini.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom discussed, with Mogherini, the next steps towards implementing a mechanism for transactions with Iran that will not violate the current stiff sanctions that Washington slapped on the Islamic Republic after Tehran significantly increased its military and clandestine service campaigns in the Near East, Europe, and Latin America after a nuclear deal was signed in 2015.
Mogherini said she hoped for the mechanism to become operational in the next few weeks, adding that the EU would continue to support the nuclear deal with Iran as long as the country continued to comply with inspections and uranium production limits.
That prospect, however, appears to be unlikely after the Iranian government issued an ultimatum to the EU, as well as to Russia and China, that the remaining signatories to the nuclear deal must deliver the economic incentives that were promised to Iran as part of the deal, which the US pulled out of a year ago, or Tehran will itself immediately quit the accord.
Iran has reportedly already begun implementing changes to its commitments to the nuclear deal. A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said that Tehran will breach enriched uranium and heavy water limits as a response to the US’ sanctions.
“After one year of patience, the Islamic Republic of Iran has started measures within the framework of the nuclear deal for the time being,” Kamalvandi told Iran’s state-run Arabic language al-Alam propaganda website.
“We are very worried about a conflict…about the risk of conflict and of an escalation that is unintended,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters in Brussels ahead of his meeting with Pompeo, adding, “We need to make sure that we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearisation,” he said, adding “a period of calm so that everyone understands what the other side is thinking.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he told Pompeo during their meeting that his government did not “want it to come to a military conflict (between the US and Iran)” and further clarified that the EU and US were attempting to tackle the threat of more aggressive actions by Iran through “different ways … taking different courses”.
A call for pan-EU unity was voiced by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who urged Europeans to remain united in support of the nuclear deal and to call on both Tehran and Washington to refrain from antagonising the already tense situation.
The discussions came only hours after two Saudi oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were the targets of saboteurs, Though the perpetrators have yet to be identified, the early indications appear to point to one of Iran’s many terrorist proxies in the Gulf region.
In addition to Iran’s ultimatum that it would withdraw from the nuclear deal if it does not receive the financial rewards that were tied to Tehran’s full compliance with the landmark accord, senior members of the powerful the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have threatened to take action against the US military presence in the Persian Gulf.
The US Navy has recently sent an aircraft carrier group to the Gulf and, according to media reports first published on 14 May, the White House is looking into plans to deploy up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces.
The report has raised concerns on both sides of the Atlantic that even the suggestion of a massive American military buildup in the region bears a strong resemblance to the weeks leading up to the US’ March 2003 invasion of Iraq – a strategic blunder that unleashed more than a decade of war that killed more than 200,000 Iraqis as well as 5,000 Americans, while at the same time leaving the US’ international reputation in tatters and Iran and its allies in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza as the new power brokers in the Middle East.