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EU leader Mogherini urges US to show 'maximum restraint' towards Iran

EU foreign policy chief met with Mike Pompeo in Brussels and urged him to avoid any escalation with Tehran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a brief stop in Brussels on Monday to garner support for Washington's hardline position towards Iran (Reuters)

The European Union's foreign policy chief has urged the US to show restraint amid ongoing tensions with Iran, as Mike Pompeo made a stop in Brussels to garner support for the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" policy.

In a press conference on Monday, Federica Mogherini said the European Union "always [encourages] dialogue and diplomatic engagement".

"It's always better to talk, rather than not to, and especially when tensions arise... Mike Pompeo heard that very clearly today from us," said Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

"We are living in a crucial, delicate moment where the most relevant attitude to take - the most responsible attitude to take - is and we believe should be, that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on the military side."

Mogherini's comments come amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, which last week warned about the possibility of Iranian attacks on US forces and commercial ships in the region.

The Trump administration so far has not provided any proof that these Iranian threats exist.

Still, Donald Trump's administration deployed a naval strike group to the Gulf to send a "clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime", while also imposing a new series of strict, economic sanctions on Tehran.

Observers have raised concerns about a possible military confrontation between the two countries, as senior US officials continue to issue warnings against the Iranian government.

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Iranian officials, for their part, have announced plans to pull out of parts of the 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned last year.

Last week, they also called on European leaders to protect Iran against US sanctions.

On Monday, Pompeo cancelled a planned visit to Moscow and instead flew to Brussels to share information with European leaders about the alleged Iranian threats, the US's special representative on Iran told reporters.

"The secretary wanted to share some details behind what we have been saying publicly," said Brian Hook. "We believe that Iran should try talks instead of threats. They have chosen poorly by focusing on threats."

Nuclear deal

On Monday, Trump warned that Iran would "suffer greatly" were it to "do anything", amid the ongoing row.

"I'm hearing little stories about Iran," Trump told reporters at the White House.

"If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake," he said. "If they do anything they will suffer greatly."

Washington's "maximum pressure" strategy on Tehran has been met with criticism by many observers, including European leaders who remain committed to an international nuclear agreement with the Iranian government.

Under the tenets of that accord, signed in 2015, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

The US pulled out of that deal last May, a contentious move that pitted Washington against some of its closest allies, especially in Europe.

'The most responsible attitude to take is and we believe should be, that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on the military side'

- Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief

On Monday, Laurence Norman, a Wall Street Journal reporter in Brussels, tweeted that a senior European diplomat told him that Pompeo went to Brussels "to create [the] impression" that Washington had Europe's backing versus Iran.

The Europeans, however, "declined to play that game", Norman said the diplomat told him.

Michael Birnbaum, the Washington Post’s Brussels bureau chief, also reported that Pompeo was "received only grudgingly" in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Mogherini said on Monday that the first transactions under a special economic agreement between Europe and Iran - designed to get around US sanctions - would take place "hopefully in the next few weeks".

She said the EU also remains committed to "implementing in full the nuclear deal with Iran".

"We still invite Iran to comply with all its nuclear commitments and we will do our part on our side to continue to fully implement the nuclear deal," she said.