Pence calls on Europe to unite with US on Iran

  • 14 Feb 2019

US Vice President Mike Pence is calling for America's European allies to join it in withdrawing from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal and stop efforts he said are designed to evade US sanctions.

US Vice President Mike Pence, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gather for a family photo during the Middle East summit in Warsaw, Poland. February 14, 2019. ( Reuters )

US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday demanded that European Union allies leave the Iran nuclear deal and warned of further US sanctions on Tehran.

Speaking at a conference in Poland attended by Israel and senior Arab leaders, Pence denounced Iran as the "greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East" and accused the clerical regime of plotting a "new Holocaust" with its regional ambitions.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also attending the conference, called Iran the top threat in the Middle East, and said confronting the country is key to reaching peace in the entire region.

Pompeo met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the opening session at the conference. He said "pushing back" against Iran was central to dealing with all the region's other problems.

"You can't achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran. It's just not possible," Pompeo said alongside Netanyahu.

TRT World's Ali Mustafa has more.

The Israeli leader lauded the participation of high-profile Arab dignitaries at the conference, saying it marked a "historical turning point" that signalled a shift in regional priorities.

"In a room of some 60 foreign ministers and representatives of dozens of governments, 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 said. 

"I think this marks a change, an important understanding of what threatens our future."

The US and Poland are sponsoring the conference, which they say is aimed at promoting peace and security in the Middle East but appears to be mainly focused on isolating Iran. Iran has denounced the gathering as an American anti-Iran "circus" aimed at "demonising" it.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) as they talk to the press on the sidelines of a session at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw. February 14, 2019.(AFP)

Israel's time to shine

US Vice President Mike Pence is attending along with representatives from numerous Arab countries. But France and Germany are not sending Cabinet-ranked officials, and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is staying away.

Russia and China aren't participating, either, and the Palestinians, who have called for the meeting to be boycotted, also will be absent.

For Netanyahu, a longtime opponent of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the gathering marks a culmination of his call to unite the world against Israel's arch-enemy Iran. 

He's long boasted that Israel has clandestinely developed good relations with several Arab states, despite a lack of official ties. On Wednesday, he met with Oman's foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, and at Thursday's opening session he was seated next to the foreign minister of Yemen, as representatives of Kuwait, Qatar and others looked on.

Israel has signed peace accords with Egypt and Jordan, but other Arab nations have refused to publicly improve relations without significant progress made toward ending Israel's half-century occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state.

That shunning, though, has begun to ease in recent years as shared concerns about Iran have overshadowed the Palestinian issue.

Netanyahu considers Iran to be Israel's greatest threat, citing its frequent calls for Israel's destruction, its nuclear programme and support for militant groups across the region. Israel has been active in recent months attacking Iranian targets in neighbouring Syria.

Participants pose for a group photo during the Middle East Conference at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, February 13, 2019.(AP)

A call to 'work together'

The Americans have tried to broaden the scope of what was initially billed as an Iran-centric meeting to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against Daesh and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

"No one country will dominate the discussion today nor will any one issue dominate our talks," Pompeo said in opening the meeting. He acknowledged that the eclectic nature of the gathering could produce views that "may even conflict with those of the United States."

But he said he welcomed the dialogue since none of the region's challenges will "solve themselves."

''We must work together for security. No country can afford to remain on the sidelines," Pompeo said.

President Donald Trump's senior Middle East adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan for close to two years but has not yet released details. US officials say Kushner is expected to make some comments in Warsaw about the conflict, but Netanyahu said he doesn't expect any discussion of the peace plan.

The Palestinians have pre-emptively rejected it, accusing the Trump administration of being unfairly biased toward Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeineh said on Thursday that Middle East turmoil will continue unless there is a resolution to the conflict with Israel.

"There will be no peace and stability in the Middle East without a peaceful solution that leads to a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as a capital," he said.

Pompeo addressed the conference in a closed-door session on US plans for Syria following Trump's abrupt decision in December to withdraw American troops from the country. That move led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and caught many US allies by surprise.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R), Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C), and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attend a news conference in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia on November 22, 2017.(AP)

No matter how the Warsaw conference concludes, the situation in Syria is more likely to be affected by another meeting taking place on Thursday involving the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey, each of which is deeply involved in the conflict.

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey were meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss a Syria peace settlement as expectations mount for an imminent and final defeat of Daesh ahead of the US pullout.