Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

US dispatches top officials overseas to sell Iran stance

Trump administration sends officials to Geneva, Jerusalem and Brussels to meet with US allies to discuss ways to deal with Iran

The US's Acting Defence Secretary Mark Esper was sent to meet Nato allies in Brussels after only one day in the position. AFP 
The US's Acting Defence Secretary Mark Esper was sent to meet Nato allies in Brussels after only one day in the position. AFP 

The United States has dispatched its top officials across Europe and the Middle East to build consensus on its tough stance on Iran.

Diplomats were sent to Geneva, Jerusalem and in Brussels to discuss recent tensions between Iran with its Gulf neighbours and the US, but some US allies remained sceptical.

Acting US Defence Secretary Mark Esper flew to Brussels on Tuesday to persuade Nato allies to work with Washington on Iran sanctions and security in the Middle East.

Ahead of his arrival, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the “the important thing now is to reduce tensions”.

Mr Stoletenberg said Nato members “are concerned about the situation in the Gulf and we are also concerned about Iran’s destabilising activities in the region”.

France, Germany and the UK are all still signatories to a 2015 nuclear deal from which Mr Trump withdrew last year.

Europe’s attempt to circumnavigate US sanctions on Iran has infuriated Washington, although all countries agree on the need to counter Iranian aggression.

In Jerusalem, meeting with Russian and Israeli officials, National Security Adviser John Bolton said that new US sanctions against Iran would bring them to the negotiating table, but warned that "all options remain on the table" if Iran breaches its nuclear deal commitments.

While in Geneva, US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said the Trump administration had shown great restraint in the wake of the shooting down of a US drone, which, he said, should not be mistaken for weakness.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said that an attack by Iran on US interests would trigger an "overwhelming" response.

Mr Trump tweeted that "any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration".

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said he could not envisage any situation where the UK would join a US-led war with Iran, although he shared concerns about Iran's malevolence.

"The US is our closest ally,” he said. “We talk to them the whole time but I cannot envisage any situation where they request, or we agree to, any moves to go to war.

"Neither side wants war, but it is very important for there to be ladders for people to climb down so discussions can take place."

Mr Hunt also said that Iran would ultimately have to stop "destabilising activities”.

Meanwhile, another key US ally, Japan, responded to a tweet by Mr Trump that questioned US protection of shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, which Mr Trump said Japan gains a lot from.

“We are seriously concerned about rising tensions in the Middle East,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

“In particular, the safety of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz is a matter of life and death for our country in terms of energy security.”

He added that Japan would continue diplomatic efforts in close co-operation with the US and other countries.

The flurry of diplomacy comes following a one-day tour of the UAE and Saudi Arabia by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

During his visits to Jeddah and Abu Dhabi, Mr Pompeo met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, as well as Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr Pompeo's trip to the region focused on maritime security, which he said was "paramount".

Updated: June 25, 2019 07:24 PM

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