Abandon Iran nuclear deal, Pence tells EU allies, Merkel disagrees

US Vice-President Mike Pence delivers a speech during the 55th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, Germany, 16 February 2019. [EPA-EFE/RONALD WITTEK]

US Vice President Mike Pence urged European allies once again on Saturday (16 February) to follow Washington’s lead and withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, saying the regime there “openly advocates another Holocaust”.

“The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people,” Pence said during the opening night of the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany. “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”

Under the 2015 international accord, major world powers agreed to provide sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

After the United States withdrew from the agreement last May and began reimposing sanctions on Iran, France, Germany, Britain, the EU, Russia, and China as signatory countries have been working to save the EU-brokered agreement.

US President Trump has called the agreement “fatally flawed” because it did not address Iran’s ballistic-missile program or its alleged state sponsorship of terrorism.

“The Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust, and it seeks the means to achieve it,” Pence told the audience and said that visiting Auschwitz in Poland after attending the conference in Warsaw earlier this week convinces him to “strengthen the resolve of the free world to oppose that kind of vile hatred and to confront authoritarian threats of our time”.

Pence’s comments came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the agreement in front of the Munich conference audience. In her speech, Merkel said the deal needs to be preserved to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

“I see the ballistic missile program, I see Iran in Yemen and above all, I see Iran in Syria,” she added.

But “the only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement?” she asked the audience.

Instead, Merkel suggested to “keep the small anchor” the pact represents that allows the West to exert pressure on Tehran on other issues.

In light of the ongoing INF Treaty debate, the two speeches confirmed another rift between Europe and the United States on foreign policy issues.

Earlier this week, speaking at a Middle East conference in Warsaw on 14 February, Pence accused Washington’s European allies of trying to break US sanctions against Tehran and called on them to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

Attended by diplomats from 62 countries, Warsaw conference further deepened the EU’s East-West divide on the bloc’s foreign policy stance towards Iran.

In a rather blunt “if you stand with us, we will stand with you”speech, Pence rebuked European allies over a scheme the EU has set up to facilitate trade with Iran as “an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

“It is an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the US,” Pence told the conference on the Middle East organised by the US in the Polish capital. He urged what he termed “freedom-loving nations” to stand against Iranian “evil”.

“Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative. In fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions,” Pence said.

Russia had declined the invitation to attend the Warsaw conference and instead organised talks between Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Sochi. From there, Rouhani called the Warsaw conference on the Middle East a “conspiracy against the countries of the region.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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