Pence demands EU isolate Iran as Israelis and Arabs unite
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence demanded on Thursday that Europeans drop a nuclear deal with Iran and join in seeking to cripple the regime, a cause that united Israel with long-time Arab rivals at a conference in Warsaw.
Major European powers sent low-level representation to the U.S.-initiated meeting, suspicious of U.S. President Donald Trump's hawkish impulses and convinced the 2015 deal under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear programme is working.
But Pence took direct aim at allies Britain, France and Germany, denouncing their new initiative to let European companies operate in Iran in defiance of unilateral U.S. sanctions.
"It's an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and creates still more distance between Europe and the United States," he said. "The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us," he added.
The Warsaw conference is timed just as Iran's clerical regime celebrates 40 years since the Islamic revolution ousted the pro-U.S. shah.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, visiting the Russian resort of Sochi for a simultaneous summit called by Russian leader Vladimir Putin that also included Turkey, retorted: "We see what's happening in Warsaw, it's an empty result, nothing."
Pence stopped just short of calling for regime change in Iran, which has been comparatively stable in recent years amid unrest throughout the Middle East. Pence threatened further U.S. sanctions as "the people of Iran take to the streets" and its "economy continues to plummet".
He accused Iran of plotting a "new Holocaust" with its opposition to Israel and regional ambitions in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. "Freedom-loving nations must stand together and hold the Iranian regime accountable for the evil and violence it has inflicted on its people, on the region and the wider world," Pence said.
Pence tacitly acknowledged that Iran is in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, but said the issue was the accord itself, brokered under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who did not go to bloc member Poland for the talks, said the Europeans shared many U.S. concerns but disagreed on the accord.
"For us, the implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran is a matter of European security – to avoid that Iran can develop a nuclear weapon – and we see it is working," she told reporters in Brussels shortly before Pence's speech. "For us it is a matter of priority to keep implementing it in full," she said.
Poland – which is eager to please the United States amid fears of a resurgent Russia – said it also backed the nuclear deal but that it was important to seek common ground among allies. "If we stand together and act in a united manner, we can come closer to resolving security problems in the Middle East," Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said at the close of the conference.
Pence only briefly mentioned concerns with Iran's Arab adversaries, saying the Trump administration would keep looking at Saudi Arabia's killing of U.S.-based dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi. But Pence hailed the Arab front against Iran.
Top officials of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – none of whom recognise Israel – sat down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Warsaw starting with a dinner on Wednesday at the Royal Castle.
Netanyahu called the talks a "historical turning point" and voiced hope they could lead to a greater normalisation of relations.
"An Israeli prime minister and the foreign ministers of the leading Arab countries stood together and spoke with unusual force, clarity and unity against the common threat of the Iranian regime," Netanyahu told reporters as he arrived for Thursday's main session at a football stadium.
Israel only has diplomatic relations with two Arab countries, neighbouring Egypt and Jordan.
Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser, made a rare public appearance to brief countries on plans for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians which he will present after Israel's elections on 9 April.
A senior European official who listened to the closed-door presentation was underwhelmed.
"Nothing new at all. It is obvious that everybody is now waiting for the outcome of Israeli elections," the official told journalists on condition of anonymity.
Pence later told reporters the United States was making a "good faith effort" to reach the kind of deal "that has eluded the region and the world for generations".
"While there will be compromise, the United States will never compromise on the safety and security of the state of Israel," he said.
But the Palestinian Authority says it can no longer trust the United States as a broker after Trump in 2017 recognised Jerusalem – holy to the three major monotheistic religions – as Israel's capital.
Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, wrote in Israel's Haaretz newspaper that the Warsaw meeting had "tried to normalise the Israeli occupation and the systematic denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination". (AFP)