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After Pence Criticizes European Approach to Iran, Pompeo Meets with Top EU Diplomat

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo poses with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, Belgium, February 15, 2019. (Olivier Hoslet/Reuters)

Brussels — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, one day after the vice president rebuked Germany, France, and the United Kingdom on a world stage over their approach to Iran. Mogherini is a champion of the Iran deal from which the Trump administration has withdrawn.

Pence’s remarks came yesterday, before representatives from 62 nations, at a foreign-policy conference held in a Warsaw soccer stadium. Initially billed as a general forum to discuss the Middle East, the conference made headlines for its unsubtle emphasis on Iran. There, Pence charged American allies with having “led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions” through the so-called “special-purpose vehicle,” a financial instrument created by Germany, France, and the U.K. that could allow them to bypass U.S. bans on trade with Iran.

“It is an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU, and create still more distance between Europe and the United States,” he said. Pence also called on the EU to withdraw from the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

At the conference, Pompeo kept up the emphasis. “There was not a defender of Iran in the room,” he said. He also echoed Pence’s entreaty to Europe: “It’s in our collective best interest to deny Iranian leaders the money they need to fuel the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”

Today, he met with Mogherini, a reliable defender of the JCPOA, for more than an hour. The EU diplomat declined to answer a reporter who asked whether she had had any reaction to Pence’s speech. A State Department official called the hour-long meeting “friendly” and “constructive.” Despite the difference in policy on the JCPOA, Pompeo suggested yesterday that the U.S. and the EU still agree on other Iran-related issues.

Who came to the Warsaw conference was as notable as who didn’t. The U.S. first cast it as an Iran-centric affair before broadening its focus to include the Yemeni war and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Despite the rebranding, Germany, France, and the EU all sent low-level officials anyway (the U.K. sent its foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt). Meanwhile, several Arab states brought high-level officials to the conference and participated in meetings alongside Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, continuing an ongoing thaw in relations between Israel and its onetime enemies who are increasingly unnerved by Iranian aggression.

The stop in Brussels was the fourth in a five-leg trip for Pompeo that concludes today in Reykjavik.

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