The ministers from the EU signatories to the nuclear deal with Iran have expressed concern about a military escalation between the United States and Iran as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a surprise visit to Brussels.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian each held talks with Pompeo on May 13, following a joint session with EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini focused on efforts to keep a landmark 2015 deal with Iran afloat.
Pompeo canceled a planned trip to Moscow in order to brief the European allies on Washington's latest moves. He is still set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi on May 14.
"We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended really on either side," Hunt said ahead of talks in Brussels, calling for a "period of calm."
Mogherini, who held her own meeting with Pompeo, said dialogue was "the only and the best way to address differences and avoid escalation" in the region.
"We continue to fully support the nuclear deal with Iran, its full implementation," Mogherini said. "It has been and continues to be for us a key element of the nonproliferation architecture both globally and in the region."
The Europeans' warnings came after the United States deployed an aircraft-carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf to counter an unspecified threat that Washington says has been posed by Iran.
"We are concerned about the developments and the tensions in the region," Maas said following the talks with Pompeo. "We do not want it to rise to a military escalation."
Le Drian joined the criticism saying Washington's move to step up sanctions against Iran "does not suit us."
A State Department official said Pompeo also shared information on Iranian threats with NATO officials in Brussels.
"Iran is an escalating threat and this seemed like a timely visit on his way to Sochi," said Brian Hook, the special representative for Iran. "The secretary wanted to share some detail behind what we have been saying publicly. We believe that Iran should try talks instead of threats. They have chosen poorly by focusing on threats."
The meetings in Brussels came after an announcement by Tehran last week that it will scale back some of its commitments under the agreement if world powers do not protect its interests against U.S. sanctions.
Tensions have been escalating between Iran and the United States since Washington withdrew from the deal a year ago and reimposed sanctions against Iran.
European countries said last week they wanted to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran but rejected "ultimatums" from Tehran.
Under the agreement known as 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for relief from crippling economic sanctions. Besides the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, the other signatories of deal are Russia and China.
European backers of the pact have been trying to salvage the agreement, but Tehran has complained that the process is too slow.
Before the meetings, Mogherini told reporters, "We continue to support it as much as we can with all our instruments and all our political will."