MUNICH — European officials insisted Friday they would remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal, a day after Vice President Pence demanded that the continent’s major powers follow the United States out of the agreement and accused them of trying to bust U.S. sanctions.
Addressing the Munich Security Conference, where leaders from around the globe began to gather Friday, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held tough on the continent’s commitment to the Iran deal, saying that the 28-nation bloc regards the agreement as an effective guarantor of peace.
“I believe if it was not for the European Union and its member states, starting with France, Germany and the U.K., I am sure that the nuclear deal with Iran would have been dead long ago,” she said. “We believe it is fundamental and crucial for our security.”
The comments came after Pence used a speech in Warsaw on Thursday to deliver the most direct attack to date from a U.S. official on Europe’s attempts to salvage the agreement. Pence accused European powers of aiding “that vile regime” in Tehran with a new financial platform intended to allow trade with Iran to continue, even as the United States attempts to choke it off.
The blistering Pence speech appeared to have done little to alter the course of Europe’s Iran policy, or even provoke much reaction. Mogherini did not directly mention Pence’s statement, and the E.U. account of a meeting she held with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels earlier on Friday made no mention of the issue.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said Friday that Europe would seek to keep the deal alive. But pressed on what more Europe could do as its companies exit Iran under U.S. pressure, he declined to spell out any new tactics.
The 2015 agreement was intended to take Iran off the path to nuclear weapons in exchange for enhanced international trade. But Iran’s economy has suffered since President Trump announced last May that he was getting out of the deal and reimposing sanctions. And Europe has had only limited success keeping its end of the bargain without U.S. support.
The United States has moved aggressively against European firms that continue to do business with Iran, threatening to block access to U.S. markets. Some Iranian-owned companies say that their phone services have been disrupted and insurance contracts canceled as part of a U.S. pressure campaign.
Europe’s determination to defy the United States on Iran came amid further evidence that while the continent would like to assert itself as a power in its own right, it remains divided and weak relative to other global players.
Organizers had intended for this year’s Munich Security Conference — an elite annual gathering of defense and foreign policy players — to feature a vivid display of European unity.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been expected to appear together to assert their commitment to cooperation between the continent’s two strongest powers.
But Macron pulled out amid turmoil at home and irritation in Paris with Berlin’s relative lack of interest in a bold new vision for the continent.
With the French leader absent, the day’s most dramatic statement of European cohesion came when Wolfgang Ischinger, the conference’s organizer and a former German ambassador to Washington, appeared on the podium in a sweatshirt adorned with the E.U. flag.
Even his fashion statement, however, bore a stark reminder of Europe’s fractious nature: of the 28 gold stars symbolizing the bloc’s member states, one was blotted out — a reference to Britain’s impending departure.
“Europe is not a great power,” said Norbert Röttgen, chair of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “It’s in its worst situation since we founded the European integration process.”
Röttgen attributed its poor condition to the collapse of a world order that the United States and Europe built cooperatively following World War II, and the lack of an obvious successor beyond an escalating competition among the United States, China and Russia.
“Now we are in an in-between period. The new order has not yet appeared,” he said at a discussion on the sidelines of the conference. “It may take years, or even decades, and there will be fights, struggles and more.”