The appearances of the U.S. Vice President and the Iranian Foreign Minister exposed tensions within the Western states.
Mohammed Dschawad Sarif (left) and Heiko Maas in Munich Photo: dpa
After Saturday at the Munich Security Conference was dominated by the conflict between the United States and Russia, the crises in the Middle East were the focus of the meeting on Sunday. Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Sarif used his morning appearance to make an urgent appeal to European countries to do more to preserve the nuclear agreement with his country, despite the sharp headwinds from the United States. "Europe must dare to get its skin wet if it wants to swim against the tide of U.S. unilateralism," he said. It is in Europe’s interest to hold on to the agreement, which was unilaterally terminated by the U.S., he said.
Sarif warned that the creation of a special purpose vehicle for Iran trade "is not enough" to save the nuclear agreement. In early January, Germany, France and the United Kingdom had created the Instex payment system to protect European companies trading with Iran from U.S. sanctions. Whether this will succeed, however, is unclear.
The Iranian foreign minister sharply attacked the U.S., accusing it of "pathological obsession." Sarif spoke of "ignorant hate speech by American government representatives." With their "hateful accusations," they were "demonizing" his country. The goal, he said, is regime change in Thereran. "The U.S. is not doing anything else, only that."
Firmly, Sarif rejected U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s accusation that Iran is planning a new holocaust. That claim, he said, was "laughable, but at the same time very, very dangerous."
Differences in Access
Pence had said Saturday at the security conference, "The Iranian regime is advocating and trying to achieve a holocaust." Pence again and forcefully called on European allies to withdraw from the nuclear agreement. "EU partners must also stop undermining U.S. sanctions on Iran," he said. "The time has come for our European partners to stand with us."
The issue of Iran is one "that of course divides us at the moment," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her speech Saturday. She said both the U.S. and the Europeans are pursuing the goal of "containing the harmful effects or the difficult effects of Iran."
Specifically, she named Tehran’s actions in Yemen and Syria. The difference, however, lies in the different answers to the tactical question of whether it would really serve the common cause if the European states also terminated the only remaining agreement. From their point of view, it would be better to at least "hold a small anchor in order to exert pressure in other areas.