In Depth

How Europe has reacted to the US-Iran crisis

EU leaders call for de-escalation of tensions but Pompeo criticises their response

Political leaders across Europe are urging Iran and the US to halt escalating tensions that could potentially spark a war in the Middle East.

On Tuesday evening, Iran launched a missile attack on Iraqi military bases housing American troops in retalilation for US President Donald Trump’s highly controversial decision to sanction the assassination of top Iranian military general Qasem Soleimani last week.

Earlier on Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy met in Brussels for emergency talks on the growing US-Iranian crisis, according to euractiv.com.

With tensions running so high, here’s a look at the response from Europe so far:

European Commission

New European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made her first public comments about the escalating hostilities between Iran and the United States on Monday evening, Politico reports.

“Europe has a special responsibility here,” she said. “As tensions mount, Europe is talking to all those involved.”

Von der Leyen added: “After the devastation wrought by Daesh [Isis], Iraq is developing well and its people deserve to see the continuation of progress towards reconstruction and greater stability. Iraq deserves to stay on the path of balance and reconciliation. We call on all parties to show restraint,” The Independent reports.

UK

Boris Johnson has warned Iran not to repeat “reckless and dangerous” attacks and called for “urgent de-escalation” of the situation, says the BBC.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned Iran’s attacks on Tuesday, stating: “We urge Iran not to repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks, and instead to pursue urgent de-escalation,” reports PoliticsHome.

He added that “a war in the Middle East would only benefit Daesh and other terrorist groups”.

And speaking on BBC Breakfast, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay agreed, claiming all parties in the crisis “need to de-escalate”.

“It’s in no side’s interest to see war,” he said.

France

Politico reports that France’s initial reaction focused on its two most important concerns in the region, namely “preserving the ability of forces within the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq to fulfill their mission, and trying to contain further Iranian violations of the nuclear deal”.

Shortly after the killing of Soleimani, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters: “The priority must be to continue the actions of the international coalition against Daesh [Isis], which [the coalition] is operating in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi authorities and in support of Iraqi security forces.

“The coalition’s continuity is essential to preserving the achievements of five years of combat against Daesh and guaranteeing a lasting victory against terrorism throughout the entire region,” reports The Guardian.

President Emmanuel Macron “underlined his full solidarity with our allies in the face of attacks over recent weeks against coalition forces in Iraq”. Macron also reiterated the necessity for Iran to abstain from any military escalation that could further destabilize the region, Politico notes.

Macron also spoke to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, by phone, says the Guardian. After the call, Russia said both leaders agreed the American “action might seriously escalate tensions in the region”, the newspaper adds.

Germany

According to DW, Germany is “split” over its strategy in the US-Iran conflict as tensions escalate, with some critics believing that “picking sides or diplomatic inaction risk further alienating the United States and Iran, both of whom are already critical of German and European responses to the conflict”.

Gert Hilgers, a researcher in international politics at the University of Warwick in the UK, told the broadcaster: “Choosing sides will only harden the stances of the US and/or Iran and weaken the EU’s mediation position in the long-term.

“For Berlin, this is not a matter of ambivalence or the avoidance of making hard decisions, but a matter of sticking to its foreign policy roots.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Sunday called for a planned meeting of his EU counterparts this month in Brussels to be moved up to this week to discuss the quickly developing conflict.

“Europe is now playing an important role”, he said in a statement. “As Europeans, we have proven and reliable channels of communication on all sides, which we have to make full use of in this situation.”

Spain

According to Reuters, Spain responded to the mounting crisis by withdrawing some troops from Iraq.

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told state broadcaster RTVE: “Those who were in riskier positions have left for Kuwait. There is only a reduced number left there.”

Reuters notes that Spain took the decision to pull its troops out of Iraq after Nato announced it would move some of its military training personnel out of Iraq.

Italy

Following the meeting in Brussels, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told reporters: “As for tomorrow, the EU will speak with one voice.”

In a post on Facebook, he added: “We are following the latest developments with particular attention and we condemn the attack by Teheran.

“It is a serious act that raises tension in an already critical and highly delicate situation.”

How has the US responded to its allies in Europe?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed his “disappointment” with the European reaction to the crisis, The Guardian reports, and has complained that it compares unfavourably with US “partners in the region”. This is likely to be a reference to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“I spent the last day and a half, two days, talking to partners in the region, sharing with them what we were doing, why we were doing it, seeking their assistance,” Pompeo said. “They’ve all been fantastic. And then talking to our partners in other places that haven’t been quite as good.

“Frankly, the Europeans haven’t been as helpful as I wish that they could be. The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well.”

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