Europe Scolds Trump on Iran, Jerusalem in Tillerson Meeting

The U.S. and EU’s top diplomats diverged on Middle East policy while celebrating their “partnership” on Tuesday (5 December), EU Observer reports.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini urged Washington to uphold the Iran nuclear non-proliferation deal after meeting U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Brussels. She also urged it not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a campaign promise of U.S. president Donald Trump.

“The Iran nuclear deal is a key strategic priority for European security, but also for regional and global security. Dismantling an agreement on nuclear issues that is working – as the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified nine times – would not put us in a better position to discuss all the rest on the country,” Mogherini said.

Mogherini added “a way must be found, through negotiations, to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states”, referring to Israel and Palestine’s conflict over the city.

“We believe that any action that would undermine this effort must absolutely be avoided,” she said.

She spoke at a short press conference in which reporters were not allowed to ask questions. Her remarks came after Trump, two months ago, asked Congress to unilaterally scrap the Iran accord. The deal, which involves lifting sanctions in return for a freeze on uranium enrichment, was negotiated by Mogherini in its final stages.

The EU chief diplomat’s comments also came amid White House signals that Trump will say, this week, that the US would move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a de facto recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.

Tillerson at first appeared to contradict Trump on scrapping the Iran deal, but later called on European allies to work with Washington to rein in Iran’s missile program and its regional activities, saying Tehran’s behavior must be challenged

“We discussed … our joint efforts under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [the Iran accord] to hold Iran fully compliant with the terms of that deal and fully enforce that agreement”, he said after meeting Mogherini.

He then echoed Trump, saying Iran should pay a price for its “destabilizing” activities in the Middle East. He cited Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its support for Yemen rebels, for the Syrian regime, and for Hezbollah, an armed militia in Lebanon, among the issues.

“These … activities of Iran cannot be ignored and cannot go unanswered and we intend to continue to take action to ensure Iran understands this,” he said.

He said nothing on Jerusalem, but he listed other areas in which the EU and U.S. were in agreement: on countering Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear menace, fighting Islamist terrorism, and spending more on Nato defense.

“The partnership between America and the European Union … is based upon shared values, shared objectives for security and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic and we remain committed to that,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s meeting with Mogherini was the first in a series of events in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday. The U.S. envoy also met EU and Nato foreign ministers. He will fly to Vienna on Wednesday for a two-day meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a security body, before holding talks with his French counterpart in Paris on Friday.

He said while arriving for the Nato meeting in Brussels that the U.S. had a “firm commitment to article five” – the Nato treaty clause on mutual defense.

Tillerson’s assurances come amid ever-deeper antipathy toward Trump’s America in Europe. Around fifty-six percent of people recently polled by the Koerber Foundation in Germany said relations with the U.S. were bad or very bad. Nineteen percent said poor U.S. relations were their top concern. The issue came second after immigration (26%), but ahead of bad German-Turkish relations (17%), North Korea (10%), and Russia (8%).

Tillerson’s assurances also come amid speculation that Trump plans to fire him from his job. The vacancy at the top would come amid several other empty posts in State Department areas – including that of the U.S. ambassador to the EU.  Tillerson, speaking to press on his arrival at the U.S. embassy in Brussels, played down what he called “a little criticism” from Trump.

Reacting to questions on the U.S. diplomatic vacancies, he said, “the State Department is not missing a beat”.

“While we don’t have any wins on the board yet, I can tell you we’re in a much better position to advance America’s interests around the world than we were 10 months ago,” he said.