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Europeans warn US over escalating tension with Iran

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves after attending the weekly meeting of the cabinet at 10 Downing Street in London on November 13, 2018. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing Street in London on November 13 2018 [TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images]

European leaders appear to be losing patience with their American ally over its Iran policy. Already feeling abandoned by the US following President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOC), frustrated EU officials, who have been fighting a losing battle to save the 2015 treaty, have warned the Americans against raising further tensions with the Islamic Republic.

“We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said as he arrived at a meeting in Brussels with his French and German counterparts and the EU foreign policy chief yesterday.

The warning was issued as Mike Pompeo, Washington’s top diplomat, met separately the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the UK in Brussels during what is reported to be a hastily arranged meeting before flying to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in this Black Sea resort city today.

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Tension with Iran are at their highest since Trump backed out of the deal which is viewed internationally as having reigned in Iran’s nuclear ambition. Only a handful of countries, including Israel – which has strongly voiced objections to any kind of rapprochement with Tehran,  have backed Trump’s decision.

Fears of tensions spiralling out of control were heightened following an attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf yesterday. Reports also emerged of Trump’s administration’s plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East.

These developments have triggered concerns amongst Europeans who, along with Russia and China, have been left to pick up the pieces from Trump’s decision to walk away from JCPOC and re-impose punishing sanctions on Iran.

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Hunt was reported saying: “What we need is a period of calm to make sure that everyone understands what the other side is thinking.” He added: “Most of all, we need to make sure we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearisation . . . This would be a massive step in the wrong direction.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to ask Pompeo hard questions about US intentions. “We will attempt to clarify with [Pompeo] how the Americans are planning to come out of the crisis they created with their unilateral decisions. We count on a frank talk with my American counterpart,” Lavrov is reported saying in the Financial Times.

According to the FT, Lavrov said that some blame for Iran’s threat to revive its nuclear programme lay with European countries, which had failed to uphold promises made under the deal. The threat which the Russian diplomat was referring to was the one made by President Hassan Rouhani who said that his country would resume high-level enrichment of uranium if Iran’s interests in the nuclear deal are not protected.

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