In Sofia, EU leaders will seek united front on Trump

A general view of the hall in the Palace of Culture where the Western Balkans summit will be held. [Vassil Donev, EPA/EFE]

European Union leaders will try to forge a united response at a summit today (16 May) to US President Donald Trump’s shock decisions on the Iran nuclear deal and trade tariffs.

The 28 leaders will also discuss the deaths of dozens of Palestinians in Gaza after Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, in another move that the Europeans had strongly opposed.

Trump has effectively hijacked the agenda of the meeting in Bulgaria, which was originally meant to discuss the EU’s digital agenda on the first day, and on Thursday ties with the Western Balkans.

EU President Donald Tusk said the leaders in Sofia would “reflect on recent global developments, in particular following President Trump’s announcements on Iran and trade as well as the latest, dramatic events in Gaza.”

Their discussions on Iran will come a day after Tehran’s foreign minister held talks in Brussels with his British, French and German counterparts in a bid to salvage the deal that Trump has pulled out of.

Europe offers no guarantees but vows to keep Iran deal alive

European powers vowed to keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive without the United States by trying to keep Iran’s oil and investment flowing, but admitted they would struggle to provide the guarantees Tehran seeks.

“I would like our debate to reconfirm without any doubt that as long as Iran respects the provisions of the deal, the EU will also respect it,” Tusk said in a letter to the leaders.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will “present their assessment of the situation” to their colleagues, he said.

Mogherini and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker will outline to the leaders what measures the bloc could take to shield its now substantial economic interests in Iran, Tusk added.

European diplomats have sought to play down expectations of Tuesday’s meeting, stressing the enormous challenge of finding a way around US sanctions punishing foreign businesses trading with Iran, which have global reach.

‘Stick to our guns’

“We are not in panic here and we are not under extreme time pressure,” a senior EU official said.

The European Union insists the deal is working but Trump pulled out saying that it was the “worst” possible agreement.

On Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on European and Chinese steel and aluminium, a move the EU has warned could spark a trade war, Tusk urged the leaders to keep a unified front.

“I will propose we stick to our guns,” Tusk said.

Behind their message of unity and firmness, some member states seem open to tolerating limited quotas from the United States on metals imports while others want a harder line, diplomats said.

The violence in Gaza will also be on the agenda as it was “linked to the bigger question of the consequences of the decisions of Donald Trump,” an EU official said.

Mogherini urges 'utmost restraint' after Gaza deaths

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Monday (14 May) urged “utmost restraint” after at least 37 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire during protests against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The EU has called for “utmost restraint” after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians during clashes and protests along the Gaza border against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, the conflict’s bloodiest day in years.

But there are divisions over the embassy move within the EU itself, with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania having recently blocked an EU statement slamming the US decision.

Israel, US Jerusalem festivities uncover EU rift

US President Donald Trump succeeded in dividing EU nations ahead of today’s (14 May) opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.

Wednesday’s dinner will be followed by a summit where the EU leaders will meet their counterparts from the Balkan nations of Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia.

Rajoy has an issue with Western Balkans summit in Sofia

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has told his Bulgarian colleague Boyko Borissov in no uncertain terms that he has a problem with the Western Balkans summit in Sofia, scheduled for 17 May, and may not even come if Kosovo is participating.

The meeting comes as Brussels tries to counter growing Russian influence in the region with promises of eventual membership of the EU for increasingly impatient neighbours.

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