BRUSSELS (Dispatches) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Brussels on Monday for an unplanned visit with European foreign ministers who are scrambling to uphold a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The last-minute decision, announced as he boarded a plane from the United States, set up a confrontation between Pompeo and European diplomats.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the European Union fully supports the international nuclear accord with Iran after Tehran decided to scale down its commitments in response to U.S. sanctions.
"We will continue to support it as much as we can with all our instruments and all our political will," Mogherini said before meeting foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany.
Her announcement appeared aimed at the U.S. which has unilaterally abandoned the agreement and been trying to wreck the accord through a series of coercive measures which forced Tehran this month to recant some of its commitments.
Mogherini said she was informed during the night of Pompeo's arrival in Brussels, as she urged efforts to avoid any further escalation over the issue.
The top EU diplomat also said she was not sure if a meeting with the U.S. secretary of state could be in the works.
"We will be here all day with a busy agenda. So we will see during the day how and if will manage to arrange a meeting. He's always welcome obviously, but there are no precise plans at the moment," Mogherini said.
According to a U.S. State Department official, Pompeo canceled his planned visit to Moscow to meet Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday to discuss Iran and headed instead to Brussels.
Reports suggested the U.S. diplomat was seeking to pressure the Europeans to respond to Iran's announcement to forgo certain commitments of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The U.S. has ratcheted up sanctions against Iran this month, revoking waivers that had permitted some countries to continue buying Iranian oil.
It has also sent an aircraft carrier task force, bombers and other assets into the region in a further escalation, which Iranian officials have described as "psychological warfare".
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in Brussels Monday alongside his French and German counterparts, warned of the risks of an unintended conflict between the United States and Iran.
"We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended," Hunt told reporters.
On May 8, Iran announced that it would stop exporting excess uranium and heavy water, setting a 60-day deadline for the five remaining parties to the deal to take practical measures toward ensuring Iran’s interests in the face of the U.S. sanctions.
Mogherini and the E3 foreign ministers have rejected the deadline, prompting Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif to say the bloc was demanding that Tehran unilaterally abide by a multilateral accord, which has already been abrogated by Washington.
Iran has warned that it has put a "step-by-step" withdrawal from the JCPOA on its agenda.
Nathalie Tocci, the special adviser to Mogherini, acknowledged that U.S. pressure was making Iran's compliance with the JCPOA impossible.
"What is very clear is the fact that, in fact, some of the non-renewal of the sanctions waivers of the United States actually makes it impossible for Iran to comply with the JCPOA," she told CBC News.
A senior official of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said on Monday Tehran has a host of different measures to take if its nuclear case is sent back to the UN Security Council, including quitting the nuclear deal it clinched with major world powers back in 2015.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the AEOI, made the remarks in an exclusive interview with Press TV, when asked about Iran's possible reaction to Washington’s potential decision to take Tehran’s nuclear case back to the Security Council.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will take drastic and major steps to realize the right of the Iranian nation," he said, adding, "We cannot exclude any measure … We have so far talked about different measures. It could be leaving the deal … the NPT or any other things…. It is for the senior officials of the country to decide."
"If they take Iran's case to the Security Council, they will ruin the deal ... and the deal will not be alive anymore," Kamalvandi said.
The Iranian nuclear official also criticized the European signatories to the agreement for failing to implement the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) aimed at circumventing the U.S. sanctions.
"Iran waited for a year to see what Europeans are going to do, they have given promises … they have taken good positions, but their promises about SPV and INSTEX have not been fulfilled," Kamalvandi said.
The AEOI spokesman said Britain, Germany and France have only been offering nice words and promises with regard to the JCPOA and emphasized that Iran just wants the removal of sanctions in order to be benefited by the deal.
"Europeans must do something to change the course of events," he added.
Kamalvandi stated that Iran would not continue to voluntary implement its commitments unless the Europeans "change the course and do their part."
"We are waiting for practical steps by Europeans and after 60 days, we will decide whether or not to end other voluntary commitments," the nuclear official pointed out.
Kamalvandi criticized the two mechanisms of SPV and INSTEX, which have not proven to be practical and effective so far and said, "We cannot wait anymore; if they really want to do something, they have to do it sooner than later."