BERLIN — European foreign ministers on Friday said that the escalation between the United States and Iran had risked progress against Islamic State militants, and they rallied behind their tattered nuclear deal, despite President Trump's renewed call for allies to abandon it.
The European Union has said that it will “spare no effort” to keep the 2015 deal alive, even though Tehran said it would no longer be bound by the agreement’s restrictions on centrifuges and uranium enrichment following the Trump administration’s killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
“It’s not dead, we have to bring it back to life,” Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak said of the deal as he arrived for the emergency meeting with counterparts from the 28-member bloc.
Analysts say Europe is reticent to give up on the effectively dead deal as they attempt to maintain relevancy and lack any diplomatic alternatives. European leaders have struggled to come up with a unified and committed response, and they largely watched from the sidelines as the crisis of the past week unfolded.
While not directly criticizing the Trump administration’s decision to kill Soleimani — which European officials indicated they were not informed of in advance — E.U. leaders raised concerns about the fallout. Their statements were tepid and, in some cases, slow. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took nearly four days to comment.
The Trump administration’s frustration was underscored by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he said last week that European leaders had not been “as helpful as I’ve wished.”
“The crisis risked jeopardizing years of effort to stabilize Iraq,” E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said Friday, citing implications for the “decisive work” of the international coalition fighting Islamic State militants.
Some European countries have pulled troops out of Iraq, while others have repositioned them for what they said would be a temporary period. A NATO training program for Iraqi troops has paused operations due to security concerns. Iraq’s parliament has called for U.S. troops to withdraw.
Amid the tensions with Iran, Trump on Thursday suggested an expansion of NATO to include Middle Eastern countries and said the organization should play a bigger role in the region.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that he had spoken to Trump and that the organization is looking into what it can do further to combat “international terrorism.”
The European foreign ministers also discussed possible consequences for Iran if it is determined that one of its missiles shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 people near Tehran on Wednesday.
Early Saturday, Iran said its military “unintentionally” shot down the plane and blamed “human error” for the incident, confirming claims made by Western intelligence agencies.
Much would depend on Iranian cooperation going forward, said Stef Blok, the Dutch minister of foreign affairs.
The foreign ministers called on Tehran to return to its commitments under the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
Tehran has gradually reduced its adherence to the deal — intended to put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief — since the United States withdrew in 2018 and reimposed its sanctions. But as recently as Sunday, Tehran said it was open to negotiations with the Europeans.
There are indications that European patience may eventually come to an end. Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Friday, German foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said that discussions had taken place with Britain and France on whether European countries should trigger a dispute mechanism within the deal that could lead to a “snapback” in U.N. sanctions on Iran.
However, Fontelles said that was not discussed by the wider group on Friday. “What is clear is we stick to the survival of this deal,” he said.
Quentin Aries in Brussels and Luisa Beck in Berlin contributed to this report.