In USA, Mogherini warns of ‘dangerous’ Middle East escalation

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini speaks during a press briefing during her visit to Washington on November 7, 2017. [Yuri Gripas/Commission]

Europe’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini warned on Tuesday (7 November) that the mounting tension between Saudi Arabia, Iran and their respective allies and proxies is “extremely dangerous”.

Speaking in Washington, Mogherini stopped short of criticising US President Donald Trump’s warm support for Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s aggressive anti-Iranian stance.

But she made it clear that in Europe, in any case, officials would like to see both sides calm their rhetoric and seek a “minimum of common ground” on which to build peace.

“I know that this is not the wind that is blowing as the majority voice in the world of today,” Mogherini told reporters at the EU mission in Washington.

“But allow me to bring a little bit of wisdom as the European voice in a world that seems to go completely crazy here: It’s dangerous,” she warned.

Neither Trump nor Mogherini’s opposite number US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were in Washington for her visit – both were in Asia for talks dominated by North Korea.

But Trump has taken time on his voyage to tweet support for Mohammed bin Salman’s “anti-corruption” drive, which has seen 11 royal princes and dozens of political and business leaders arrested.

The United States, in the person of ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, has also supported a Saudi claim that Iran supplied a missile that Yemeni rebels allegedly fired at Riyadh.

Prince Salman has branded Saturday’s apparently intercepted ballistic missile strike a “direct military aggression” on Iran’s behalf, and Riyadh claims the right to respond.

Mogherini was cautious on the Saudi crackdown and mass arrests, saying that Europe would support any moves to fight corruption and modernise the kingdom’s economy.

But she would not comment on Trump’s enthusiastic tweeted support for Prince Salman, including his “harshly treating” figures who had been “milking” their country.

Instead, she noted that the European Union and Canada were among “very few” governments that can claim human rights and the rule of law are central to their foreign policy.

“Here, I know, the thinking has gone in a different direction,” she added, in an implicit reference to Trump’s “America First” approach to world issues.