US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday demanded that European Union allies follow Washington’s lead in withdrawing from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal and cease efforts he said are designed to evade US sanctions.
Speaking at a Middle East conference in Poland, Pence accused Iran of being the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, adding that it was 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.
He lamented that Britain, France and Germany created a special financial mechanism that Washington believes is aimed at “breaking” tough US sanctions on Iran. Those sanctions were eased by former US president Barack Obama’s administration under the terms of the nuclear deal but were reimposed after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement last year.
Pence said the EU had “led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions… against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”
“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 added, according to a transcript by the Reuters news agency.
US and European divisions over Iran led France and Germany to opt against sending their top diplomats to the Warsaw conference.
As Iran’s clerical state marks 40 years since the overthrow of the pro-US shah, Pence vowed maximum pressure while not explicitly urging regime change.
“As Iran’s economy continues to plummet, as the people of Iran take to the streets, 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,” he said.
US sanctions “will get tougher still” unless Iran “changes its dangerous and destabilizing behavior,” Pence said.
Earlier at the same conference, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “confronting Iran” was an essential requirement for achieving peace in the Middle East.
“You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran, it’s just not possible,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Islamic Republic is a malign influence in Lebanon, in Yemen, in Syria and in Iraq, the US top diplomat went on.
“The three H’s — the Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah — these are real threats, and there are others as well. But you can’t get peace in the Middle East without pushing back against Iran,” Pompeo said.
On Wednesday night in Warsaw, Netanyahu used a joint photo op with 10 Arab foreign ministers to urge Arab states to continue normalizing relations with Israel, hailing the opening event of the so-called “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” as a “historic turning point.”
“Yesterday was a historic turning point. In a room of some 60 foreign ministers and representatives of dozen of governments, an Israeli prime minister and the foreign ministers of leading Arab countries stood together and spoke with unusual force, clarity and unity against the common threat of the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said.
The summit appears to be the first time an Israeli leader and senior Arab officials attended an international gathering centered on the Middle East since the 1991 Madrid peace conference, which set the stage for the landmark Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
The two-day conference, which was originally called with a focus on countering Iran but now carries the toned-down and vague goal of seeking stability in the Middle East, opened Wednesday with a dinner at the Royal Castle in Warsaw’s old town.
Pence addressed the guests: “Tonight I believe we are beginning a new era, with Prime Minister Netanyahu from the State of Israel, with leaders from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, all breaking bread together, and later in this conference sharing honest perspectives on the challenges facing the area.”
Palestinians have been heavily critical of the conference, with officials describing it as an effort by the US to advance anti-Palestinian positions.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.