Pence Lashes European Allies for Their Stance on Iran
By David E. Sanger
and Katie Rogers
New York Times
February 14, 2019
WARSAW — Vice President Mike Pence used an
American-convened conference on Middle East security to lash out at
Washington’s three closest European allies on Thursday, accusing them of
trying “to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary
Mr. Pence delivered his critique of the allies, Britain,
France and Germany, in an address at a Warsaw conference organized by the Trump
administration. It was a remarkable, open breach with the European nations that,
along with the United States, had negotiated the 2015
All three nations argued that President Trump made a grave
error in abandoning
the treaty last year, saying that the Iranians were in compliance even
as they continued to conduct missile and space rocket tests that were not
covered by the accord.
To the Europeans, it is Mr. Trump — not the Iranians —
who was the first to break the agreement’s terms. Since then, they have been
trying to persuade the Iranians to continue to comply with the deal, under which
Tehran gave up 97 percent of its nuclear material and agreed not to produce any
significant quantities of nuclear fuel until 2030. American intelligence
Congress late last month that the Iranians were still in compliance.
But any effort by the Trump administration to paper over
its differences was abandoned on Thursday when Mr. Pence demanded that the
European nations follow the United States and “stand with us” by rejecting
the deal they devoted years to negotiating with former Secretary of State John
Kerry and a team of American officials.
Until now, Mr. Pence has largely stayed in the background
of major pronouncements on American foreign policy. But at a conference intended
to isolate Iran, his statement only widened the divide with some of the core
nations of the European Union.
It was telling that he did so in Warsaw. Like President
George W. Bush in the lead-up to the Iraq war, the Trump administration is
warming to the more authoritarian governments of Central Europe.
What seems to have prompted Mr. Pence’s ire was the
announcement two weeks ago that the three European countries would create a new
financial mechanism — essentially a barter system — that would
enable them to buy Iranian oil in return for European goods. That would avoid
the need to finance payments through the banking system, theoretically allowing
Iran’s trading partners to avoid sanctions.
“They call this scheme a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle,’
’’ Mr. Pence said. Later, he added, “We call it an ill-advised step that
will only strengthen Iran, weaken the E.U., and create still more distance
between Europe and America.”
His speech to foreign ministers and diplomats from about
five dozen countries came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dropped any
remaining pretense about the goal of the conference, which had been formally
described as focusing on “Middle East security.”
Meeting Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,
early on Thursday morning, Mr. Pompeo said, “You can’t achieve peace and
stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran.”
Mr. Pence’s comments, particularly his demand that the
European states abandon the nuclear accord, clearly took other administration
officials by surprise. They were significantly harsher than what Mr. Pence had
planned to say, based on an earlier copy of his speech that was widely
circulated here on Thursday morning.
But Mr. Pompeo worked to put the focus back on Iran.
“There was not a defender of Iran in the room,” he told reporters after the
sessions were over. At another point, he said that “it is indisputable that
Iran’s aggression brought Arab states and Israel together.”
Still, togetherness had its limits. The Arab leaders who
attended were hesitant to appear on the stage at the same time as Mr. Netanyahu;
they kept their distance, lest images from the conference, which was closed,
circulated back in Arab capitals.
At the meeting in Warsaw, Iran was rarely mentioned
directly in documents given to ministers and diplomats outlining the subjects
for discussion, which included the future of Syria, Israeli-Palestinian peace,
missile proliferation, terrorism and emerging cyberthreats. That was taken as a
nod to the sensitivities of the French and Germans, who had rebuffed American
entreaties and sent only high-ranking career diplomats rather than their foreign
ministers. The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, arrived at the last
Once the event got underway, however, American officials
made it clear that the subtext of almost every issue was Iran, including
Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorist groups and its heavy investment in a
cyberforce that has attacked targets in Saudi Arabia and the United States.
malign influence in Lebanon, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq; the three H’s: the
Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah,’’ Mr. Pompeo said. “These are real threats;
there are others as well,” he added. “But you can’t get peace in the
Middle East without pushing back against Iran.’’
For Mr. Netanyahu, who is running for re-election in two
months while facing the
possibility of indictment on corruption charges, the meeting is a major
opportunity. He hopes to use it to drive home the idea that he alone has the
stature and ability to confront threats to Israel and to show that he is opening
relations with the Sunni Arab states that also have an enmity for Tehran.
That goal — using Iran as the common adversary to unite
Israel and the Arab states with which it has fought two wars — appears to have
been enough for the Trump administration at the Warsaw meeting.
“This meeting shows that Arab states and Israel
increasingly recognize the shared threats they face,” Brian Hook, Mr.
Pompeo’s special envoy for Iran issues, said in an interview.
The session comes just months after the United States
expanded sanctions against Tehran and a day after The New York Times reported
United States had reinvigorated a long-running program to sabotage
Iran’s missile and space rocket launches.
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser,
who is developing a Middle East peace plan, convened a gathering on Thursday
morning attended by Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Pompeo and 150 others that united some
strange bedfellows in the name of isolating Iran.
Officials from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United
Arab Emirates sat at a table on one side of the room, while officials including
Mr. Kushner, Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Netanyahu and Abdul Malik al-Mekhlafi, the Yemeni
foreign minister, sat on the other.
Mr. Kushner said the Trump administration’s coming peace
plan for the Middle East would be unveiled after the Israeli elections on April
9, an administration official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because
the proposal was not yet in its final form, said that Mr. Netanyahu had promised
not to prejudge the plan before its release, and added that there was a hope the
Palestinians, who did not attend the meeting in Warsaw, would do the same.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, speaking at a rival
meeting in Sochi, Russia, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and
President Vladimir V. Putin, said the countries meeting in Warsaw were the real
sponsors of terrorism.
“Unfortunately, the terrorist groups in the region have
for years been supported by foreign powers, especially the United States,” Mr.
Rouhani said, the semiofficial Iranian agency ILNA reported.
Mr. Pence is expected to participate in a bilateral meeting
with Mr. Netanyahu, whose office had to pull back a Twitter post that quoted him
as saying the conference was to discuss “the common interest of war with