Speaking at the US-sponsored Warsaw summit on the Middle East, Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday railed against European efforts to circumvent American sanctions on Iran, and crucially as Bloomberg concludes, his speech confirms the "US and its oldest allies across the Atlantic are becoming estranged."
He slammed European efforts to "break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime" — a theme also repeated by Pompeo and Israeli PM Netanyahu on the same day.
Pence specifically reprimanded the UK, France, and Germany for launching a so-called "SWIFT alternative" or special purpose vehicle to allow non-dollar trade with Tehran and to facilitate humanitarian goods-related transactions, called INSTEX — or "Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges". Europe sees it as a crucial step in keeping the 2015 nuclear deal alive after Washington was able to pressure the Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service to cut off the access of Iranian banks last year.
“They call this scheme a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’,” Pence said, as cited by Bloomberg. “We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.’’ The Paris-based INSTEX initiative represents the most concrete action Europe has taken to directly thwart Washington sanctions.
“We call it an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and America,’’ Pence said. Though many observers have predicted the issue would come to a head, this is the first time a top US leader has stood in Europe berating allies over offering Iran sanctions relief. Tehran for its part has said it's not enough, though a minimal beginning by the EU.
Pence further urged the Europeans to break completely with the Iran deal: “For the sake of peace, security, stability, and human rights in the Middle East, the time has come for our European partners to stand with us, stand with the Iranian people, stand with our allies and friends in the region — and we reject the Iran nuclear deal,” he said.
Pence also met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two agreed that Iran is "the leading state sponsor of terror in the world." During his speech at the Warsaw summit Pence cited the bombing of American embassies, the murder of "hundreds of American troops" and noted further that Iran still "holds US citizens hostage".
According to The Guardian, European nations were skittish over how represented they would be, over fear of US intent to make the conference Iran-centric:
The Warsaw meeting was attended by more than 60 nations, but major European powers such as Germany and France, parties to the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, refused to send their top diplomats over fears that the summit was designed largely to build an alliance against Tehran.
The US for its part sent VP Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special aide on the Middle East.
Pompeo's address to summit representatives urged the world to "confront Iran". He said to reporters afterward, “You can’t achieve stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran. It’s just not possible.” He cited places the US sees as Iranian proxy ground: “There are malign influences in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq,” in reference to groups Iran supports. “The three H’s: the Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah, these are real threats,” he added.
However, given Assad's victory in Syria alongside Iranian, Hezbollah, and Russian support, it appears US options in these proxy confrontations in the Middle East remain limited and rapidly diminishing, and even more so now that EU is increasingly going its own course.