BRUSSELS: Iran and the United States could trigger a conflict by accident in an already unstable Gulf region, Britain’s foreign minister said on Monday, urging a period of calm ahead of talks between the European Union and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
President Donald Trump is seeking to isolate Tehran by cutting off its oil exports after pulling out of a 2015 deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear programme. Trump has also sent US warplanes and an aircraft carrier to the Gulf.
“We are very worried about a conflict, about the risk of a conflict … of an escalation that is unintended,” Britain’s Jeremy Hunt told reporters as he arrived in Brussels for a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Hunt, who was due later to meet Pompeo along with the foreign ministers of France and Germany and the EU’s diplomatic chief, also expressed concern about the risks of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East if Iran were to acquire such weapons.
“We need to make sure that we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearisation,” Hunt said, calling for “a period of calm so that everyone understands what the other side is thinking”.
The exact timing and details of Monday’s meeting with Pompeo are still unclear, diplomats said.
Trump has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf in a show of force against what US officials have said is a threat to US troops in the region.
Iran says the strategy amounts to “psychological warfare” and a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander on Sunday said Iran would retaliate to any aggressive US moves.
Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran deal, which aims to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, is strongly opposed by Britain, France and Germany, the European signatories to the accord, which the EU helped to negotiate.
But last week they also rejected “ultimatums” from Tehran, after Iran relaxed restrictions on its nuclear programme and threatened moves that might breach the pact.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday they would continue to support the nuclear pact because Iran continued to comply with inspections.
“We all agree in Europe that this (Iran nuclear) deal is necessary for our security. No one wants Iran to be in possession of a nuclear bomb,” Maas said.
The EU is trying to implement a new channel to allow Iran to sell its oil and circumvent newly-instated US sanctions, but setting it up is proving complex.
The US State Department said in a statement that Pompeo had cancelled a planned stopover in Moscow to go instead to Brussels “to discuss recent threatening actions and statements” by Iran.
After Brussels Pompeo will travel to Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on Iran with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.