MADRID (Dispatches) -- Spain has withdrawn a frigate from a U.S.-led naval group in the Persian Gulf because it was now focusing on Iran rather than an agreed objective to mark an historic seafaring anniversary, the Spanish government said on Tuesday.
"The U.S. government has taken a decision outside of the framework of what had been agreed with the Spanish Navy,” acting Defense Minister Margarita Robles told reporters in Brussels.
That led to the temporary pullout of the 215-sailor Mendez Nunez from the group led by aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as the mission no longer had the objective of celebrating 500 years since the first circumnavigation of the world, as envisaged by a bilateral U.S.-Spanish agreement, she said.
Robles said Spain would rejoin the group as soon as it returns to its original task, adding: "Spain will always act as a serious and reliable partner as part of the European Union and within NATO.”
The European Union still backs a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran from which U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew a year ago.
Trump, now trying to isolate Iran, has reimposed sanctions on it and sent the aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Middle East in a further escalation of its hostile moves.
Trump is also seeking to cut off Iran’s oil exports to pressure the Islamic Republic to renegotiate stricter limits on its nuclear program and drop support for resistance groups.
On Monday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini strongly advised against any "military escalation” in the Middle East after meeting the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels. The summit was crashed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who reportedly tried to sell Washington’s hard line on the Islamic Republic.
Mogherini said "maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on the military side" would be "the most responsible" course of action.
"Pompeo heard that very clearly today from us, not only from myself, but also from the other ministers of EU member states,” she said.
Pompeo is the alleged brain behind the Trump administration’s policy of "maximum pressure” on Iran. Hawkish national security adviser John Bolton is reportedly trying to escalate it into a military confrontation.
Iran’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that "extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies.
Muhammad Javad Zarif was in New Delhi for talks with Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj after New Delhi stopped purchases of Iranian oil this month in the wake of renewed U.S. sanctions.
Zarif said the issue of mysterious attacks on commercial vessels had figured in the talks with Indian leaders.
"In this meeting there was also discussion of the worries about the actions and suspicious sabotage in the region ...” Zarif told the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
"And we announced that we had predicted these kinds of actions for provoking tension in the region before.”
Zarif said he discussed the regional situation with his Indian counterpart.
"In today’s meeting we discussed regional issues and the dangers of the policies, extremist individuals in the American government and the region are trying to impose on the region,” Zarif told IRNA.
An Indian government official who attended the meeting said, "There is an expectation from their (Iranian) side that we will continue to buy oil.”
A second Indian government source said New Delhi would decide on resuming purchases of Iranian oil keeping in mind its commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests.
Zarif’s visit to New Delhi was part of Iran’s consultation with other countries in the region including Russia, China, Turkmenistan, and Iraq over the past few days.
The Kremlin also slammed Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran as President Vladimir Putin received U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the highest-level U.S.-Russian talks in nearly a year.
Trump's top diplomat, who arrived in the sunny Black Sea resort of Sochi late Tuesday, met with Putin to see if Russia and Washington can make headway on a raft of disagreements from arms control to the raging Venezuela and Iran crises.
Ahead of the negotiations Putin was to tour a top military flight test centre in southern Russia and inspect a new nuclear-capable hypersonic missile dubbed Kinzhal (Dagger).
Pompeo cancelled a stop in Moscow Monday to instead have an unscheduled meeting in Brussels with European foreign ministers.